Harrisburg City Council is mulling changes proposed to the city’s liquor ordinance, especially the hours liquor is allowed to be sold.
Mayor Eric Gregg, the city’s liquor control commissioner, believes the later the hours of operation the greater the chance for violent fights. He ordered Poor Boys Lounge’s license suspended for seven days in January due to several violent incidents since 2012.
Gregg said he does not want any liquor establishments remaining open to 2 a.m. as is currently allowing Friday and Saturday nights and on Sundays with special permission for certain holidays.
“There may be special occasions, Super Bowl other events, that may warrant a later opening, but one of the things I have a real issue with is staying open to 2 a.m. — Sunday night into 2 a.m. Monday morning. I think that’s not a good thing for this city and that’s going to change. We are never going to have a place stay open until 2 a.m.,” Gregg said.
He read the proposed changed hours of operation. He proposes Sunday hours remain the same — noon to 7 p.m. except for approved special occasions. He proposes hours from Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to midnight while currently the hours are 9 a.m. to midnight Mondays and Tuesdays and 9 a.m. to midnight Wednesdays and Thursdays. He proposes Friday and Saturday hours from 10 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. from the current 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Commissioner Ron Fearheiley said he was concerned about moving the opening time from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., saying there may be people leaving early for camping or other excursions who may want to buy their alcohol earlier than 10 a.m.
Keith Walker, owner of E.L. Shagwells, expressed concerns.
“I don’t think it’s fair all the institutions be punished for one bad child or two bad children,” Walker said.
He said his establishment is diligent about not serving and arranging rides for those who are very intoxicated, who may stagger in having been ejected from another establishment earlier.
“There are two kinds of people who come to a bar. There are people who have character and want to have a good time and enjoy themselves with their friends and their family and there are characters, people who go out looking for problems wanting a problem, have a Duracell on their shoulder, had a bad day at work, have a problem with their wife, have a problem with their husband and so forth. Those people are in jail,” Walker said.
He indicated there is an issue with those who regularly cause problems in bars not being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and that diligent prosecution would be an effective deterrent.
“I also believe that cutting back on the hours is punishing the good people for a handful of miscreants,” Walker said.
He said there is also a likelihood of people “power drinking” if hours are shortened, trying to get the same number of drinks they are accustomed to in a shorter period of time. He predicts people will be more intoxicated and more likely to create problems in the bar or cause accidents on the way home.
Michael T. Shaw — who initially addressed council Jan. 4 saying he had been assaulted at Poor Boys, paid thousands of dollars in medical bills and the city’s case against his attacker was dropped by the city attorney effectively prohibiting him from collecting damages — reiterated Walker’s assertion better prosecution of violent people is needed.
“The only thing I can inject into this is if the city attorney would prosecute the cases in front of him instead of dismissing them you are going to get a lot more of an effect out of it because its like a kid. Slapping his hand every time he goes for a cookie, he’s still going to go for a cookie,” Shaw said.
City Attorney Todd Bittle said the city can only level fines in the case of ordinance violations — which include battery cases and traffic cases — and the back fine list is large.
“We are starting, with the help of the chief, we’ve been referring more cases to the State’s Attorney office for prosecution of individuals in violation of state laws. They can be prosecuting statewide, they can be given time in jail, they can be given time in department of corrections depending on the severity of the case,” Bittle said.
He said repeat offenders are the ones the city especially hope to turn over to the State’s Attorney.
Genny Craig, manager of the Harrisburg Elks, reminded council shorter hours mean less tax money for the city.
“An hour’s time, I know you don’t think it’s a lot, but that’s a lot of sales tax dollars that would not be in Saline County,” Craig said.
Gregg asked council members to review the proposed ordinance for changes and possible adoption during the next meeting Feb. 21.
Council spent much time in discussions of the issue of water loss. Former City Treasurer Charles Will had brought the issue up an earlier meeting and Carlos Tanner — auditor of the city’s finances — brought it up Thursday.
Water Superintendent Kelly Hefner said the water loss ratio in Harrisburg is about 22 percent, meaning of the water purchased from Saline Valley Conservancy District to be resold to residences and businesses about 22 percent is not collected.
He believes old water meters are the main problem. Hefner said he conferred with the Marion water superintendent recently and learned five years ago that city had a water loss ratio in the low 20s. In the five years since the meters have been replaced and now it is enjoying a 5 percent water loss. Normal water loss is considered to be 10 percent to 15 percent, Tanner said.
Hefner asked council to keep this in mind preparing budgets. If meters on certain lines are replaced on a schedule the problem should be fixed in a period of years.
He said bulk meters are the priority. The Muddy bulk meter was replaced last month and new bulk meters for the Saline County Detention Center and Illinois Youth Center are on order to be installed by March 31.
Another problem is people stealing water, connecting into neighbor’s meters.
“We have a lot of that,” Hefner said, and the policy is to call police when that situation arises.
At the suggestion of Tanner in his audit report, the city is also researching a system of water payments being made to a bank rather than at city hall, thereby removing money collection responsibilities from the water department clerks and basically removing all the money from city hall. Tanner said many municipalities are doing this and that banks are regularly audited.
Council had been pursuing the purchase of a property outside the Harrisburg levee — generally referred to as the old Smuggler’s property — through a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood property purchase program. The city would pay 25 percent and FEMA pays 75 percent. The property — 4 or 5 acres — is valued at about $52,500 and once purchased the structure would be demolished an no structure could be built there again.
Commissioner Ron Crank was opposed.
“I’m against buying the property. We’d have to tear it down and it’s not worth anything,” Crank said.
Crank said another property purchase considered in the program was for acreage in a field the city could use for water retention, but that property was selling for too much money.
City Engineer Jim Brown asked if he was to proceed to get the property appraised, but council members said to drop the project.