Liquor license limbo
City grants license renewals to nonexistent businesses

By Ryan Billingham - Enterprise Staff

June 4, 2015

OCONOMOWOC — The Oconomowoc Common Council renewed several liquor licenses on Tuesday, including some not currently being used.

Alderman Matt Rosek has been a vocal critic since his election last year of businesses or individuals holding licenses that remain unused for years.

Several licenses in the city are currently being paid for and retained by developers — including four at Pabst Farms — for years as apparent marketing tools to attract businesses.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Rosek tried to stop two Class B liquor licenses from being renewed, one held by William Niemann and Pabst Farms and one held by BTheBall, LLC, held by Michael G. Grall.

Both licenses have been continually renewed for over 10 years, but have not been in use.

“I don’t know why vacant farmland has liquor licenses on it,” Rosek said.

Three of the four licenses at Pabst Farms cost $10,000 and have been maintained for a $600 annual renewal fee.

Some of the licenses, according to City Attorney Bill Chapman, have been kept for years as a way to market Pabst Farms.

Chapman said when the city first issued them, it consulted the Wisconsin League Of Municipalities because the request was irregular.

The council mostly agreed the licenses serve a purpose. Some, like Alderman Charlie Shaw, expressed concern about “changing the rules” without further exploration of the issue.

Alderman David Nold echoed those sentiments. He expressed concern about what was “legal” reasoning for not renewing or revoking a license.

Rosek argued license holders should be called to account for keeping them inactive, be made to demonstrate how the licenses are being used and let the council decide if it is worth keeping the licenses from other entrepreneurs or businesses.

Rosek’s motion ultimately failed, and the licenses were approved. However, the debate beforehand showed a willingness by some aldermen to put more pressure on businesses that hold licenses for such long periods of time while others wait for the chance to utilize them.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, a municipality has broad powers over the issuance, renewal or revocation of a liquor license.

The statutes make it clear liquor licenses are a privilege issued by local authorities. If a municipality uses good judgement, does not discriminate and does not make arbitrary decisions, it can choose not to renew a license for any reason including something as simple as feeling there are enough bars in the city.

Municipalities can also adopt additional criteria to further restrict liquor licenses as long as they do not conflict with state law. For example, a city might require establishments be built outside a certain radius of schools.

The council did not make specific plans to revisit the issue, though several aldermen said making policy should be a priority.