SDC votes to up annual alcohol fees

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SOUTHLAND’s hospitality industry may have its annual alcohol licensing fees discount scrapped and additional bills upped despite the struggle it is facing.

When the Alcohol Licensing Fee-Setting Bylaw was last reviewed in 2015, Southland District Council (SDC) deemed it affordable to reduce annual fees by 30% due to having a large reserve balance.

However, this was no longer the case — a deficit of $134,924 by June had been projected.

As a result, councillors voted at their meeting last week to get rid of the discount and increase annual fees, application fees and special licenses by 10% for the years 2021/22 and 2022/23.

They would then be increased by a further 5% in 2023/24 and 2025/26 in order to alleviate the deficit.

The reserve would be repaid during nine years, if the council continued to increase fees annually by 5% past the five-year period covered by the bylaw.

The cost for a premises considered to be paying very low annual alcohol licensing fees was $133 — this would increase to $177.

For a premise paying high fees of $1006, owners would end up paying $1581.

Cr Ebel Kremer questioned the timing of the change considering the position the hospitality industry was in due to Covid-19.

‘‘A lot of people are hurting out there.

‘‘That could be a nail in the coffin for some of our businesses out there.’’

The increase proposed would add even more pressure.

Cr George Harpur, who had experience in the hotel industry, sided with Cr Kremer.

‘‘A little country hotel is facing $1000 in fees before they even open the door.’’

He believed the extra costs would cause more businesses to close.

While Southland Mayor Gary Tong acknowledged it would be difficult for owners, ‘‘the bucket’’ running the fund was getting too low.

‘‘How long do we keep kicking the can on the road?… Covid[-19] could be here next year, too.’’

Cr Karyn Owen argued it would not be a large cost in the scheme of things and ratepayers should not be subsidising alcohol anyway.

Cr Julie Keast acknowledged it was a really tough situation for the council and operators to be in.

However, something had to be done.

Cr John Douglas said the decision needed to go out for consultation to ‘‘provoke discussion’’ from the community before it could be brought back to the council and reassessed.

The draft bylaw consultation period had begun and would remain open until March 26.

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