The McCook City Council seemed in favor that alcohol should be allowed at the city auditorium, but could not come to a consensus on what kind of fees should be charged.
Currently, alcohol is not allowed on city property and city code would have to be amended to change that at the auditorium. After extensive discussion, the council directed city staff to come back at the next council meeting April 5, with the average amount charged for cleaning/damage fees at private businesses and county facilities that allow alcohol, so the city would not be the highest or lowest.
Although not voting on the item, the majority of the council agreed that fees should be increased to use the auditorium, regardless of alcohol use. City staff has recommended increasing the rental fee from $75 per day to $150.
Some on the council balked on what kind of prices should be charged for cleaning/damage deposits. Councilman Aaron Kircher wanted to know how the fees were devised, Councilman Mike Gonzales didn't want the fees too high and Councilman Lonnie Anderson requested a higher amount to encourage responsible use of the facility.
City staff has recommended to increase the cleaning fee from $200 to $400 and to increase damage deposits for a dance or alcohol use, from $300 to $500, both refundable if the facility was cleaned-up and not damaged.
Council members also appeared to agree to combine cleaning fees and damage deposits together when allowing alcohol at the auditorium, with figures ranging from $700 to $1,000.
Deposits are charged on tier level, with some events requiring less than others, explained City Clerk Lea Ann Doak. For example, craft shows are typically charged less than auctions, as items carted in or out during an auction could scrape and damage the wood floor. Each situation is different, she explained and charged accordingly.
Other recommendations from city staff included that two security personnel would be provided by the renter with approval of the police chief; only licensed caterers would be allowed to serve alcohol; deposits would be in cash or cashier checks as currently required and all special liquor licenses would continue to be approved by the city council on a case by case base, as done now.
Another suggestion was that the floor be covered with a carpet or tarp, to preserve the original wood flooring.
The city's insurance company recommended that renters sign a liability agreement that holds the city harmless for accidents or other damages, City Manager Kurt Fritsch said. Whether the city's insurance rates would increase if alcohol was allowed was still being looked into, he added.
Councilman Anderson suggested $1,000 for clean-up and damage deposits. If the fees were high enough, he reasoned, it would encourage responsible renters who care enough about the facility to get their deposits back.
Councilman Mike Gonzales disagreed. "I'd hate to get it so high we eliminate people," he said, with different groups using auditorium for different uses.
Fritsch stressed that the city was not equipped and cannot compete with private businesses. Still, the city currently charges less than private businesses or county facilities. Higher fees were not just to cover clean-up and damage, he said, but to encourage people not to create the damage in the first place.
To Councilman Aaron Kircher, the city auditorium belongs to the people and should be allowed to be used in a reasonable manner. "We don't want to make it harder or more expensive for them to use their own building," he stated.
To which Councilman Anderson responded, "They get the deposit back if they clean it up."
Any damages incurred beyond the cleaning/damage deposits would be the responsibility of the renter and recovered by legal action if needed, Mayor Dennis Berry noted.
Councilman Jerry Calvin asked how security personnel would be handled and McCook City Police Chief Ike Brown answered that renters would supply their own persons. Names of those doing security would be submitted to the police department for a reference/background check.
Several from the audience expressed their views on the matter. Mark Friehe, who has reserved the auditorium for a wedding reception and first brought the issue of allowing alcohol at the facility at the March 1 council meeting, stated that very few facilities can accommodate 300-400 people comfortably. Higher fees would force accountability on the renter, he believed. "Tell me how to write the check out, as I intend to get it all back, " he told the council. Later in the meeting, Friehe reminded the council that unlike private businesses, the auditorium does not have a kitchen and competition with the private sector would be limited because of that.
Retired Red Willow County Court Judge Cloyd Clark, who has been involved with the Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival for 14 years, said allowing alcohol at the facility would be a good idea, if done appropriately. The auditorium was used for dances in the 1940s and 50s and although no alcohol was allowed then, "there was alcohol in every car and pick-up outside," he pointed out.
Tony Spilinek, representing the Knights of Columbus Hall, said he was not against the proposal but was concerned if allowing alcohol at the auditorium would hurt private businesses. The hall has struggled financially in the past, but is doing well now and Spilinek said he would not like to see that continue. Built in 1968, the hall is one of a dwindling number across the state. But it can hold 250 people, has a liquor license and "don't forget the Fish Fry on Friday," he quipped.