The Alcohol License Review Committee held a special meeting yesterday in order to discuss a study on alcohol density in Madison.
The report was released last October, but during special meetings in November and January, the Committee passed on any discussion of it — and possible recommendations because of it — to a later date.
Laura Larsen is the City of Madison’s Budget and Program Evaluation Manager within the Finance Department and a member of the team that produced the study.
She says the report was concerned with learning what happens to the demand for city services as alcohol outlets become more highly concentrated in certain areas.
“We focused specifically on police calls and cases, fire and EMS cases, as well as building inspection calls. What we were able to find is that there is a relationship that as density levels increase, so, too, does the demand for services,” Larsen says.
“In terms of how we were calculating costs, we were using hourly rates that we were able to assign based off of the amount of time spent on those calls. Essentially, what we found was that the cost followed the number of cases and calls happening in those areas.”
Larsen also says that while this particular report focused on public safety, the model could be expanded to examine the impact of alcohol density on other city services.
Alder Mike Verveer represents parts of campus and downtown, some of the geographic areas with the highest concentration of alcohol outlets in Madison.
According to Verveer, the Madison Police Department has supplied between 10 and 20 additional police on Friday nights in the downtown entertainment district for over a decade.
“[That’s part of] something called the ‘DSI’, the ‘Downtown Safety Initiative’. This is where Madison cops volunteer to work, generally between the hours of 11pm and 3 am, on weekend nights,” Verveer adds.
In order to pay for the additional costs of police in areas with higher alcohol outlet density, the city has considered developing a special charge that would directly fund these services.
But, according to the study, establishing a special charge might have the “unintended consequence of incentivizing more alcohol heavy business models.”
“Instead, they recommend, among other things, seriously considering raising the existing license fees that are allowed to be increased while alcohol license fees in the state are capped by statute, and as a result of that, there really aren’t that many other license fees that can be considered,” Verveer says.
“The one that can be considered is a so-called entertainment license. Those aren’t subject to state caps or are set by the State, and those licenses are required by any alcohol licensed establishment that offers live music.”
Another recommendation that might come as a result of the report would be implementing a scoring system to help determine whether or not to issue alcohol licenses in the future.
Verveer says that the committee has yet to learn more about that proposal, which would be a first for the city.
“I’ve been on the ALRC for many years now, and we’ve never had an idea of a kind of scoring system as we consider our long list of many applications. So, this would be a new way of looking at things, and we simply have not had the chance to even begin the conversation about that,” Verveer says.
According to Verveer, the ALRC will hold a special meeting to continue the conversation about alcohol outlet density in the city.
That meeting date has not yet been set.