Wright County debates approval of golf course liquor license

by John Holler


It’s not usual for the Wright County Board of Commissioners to approve liquor licenses. But, at the March 26 meeting of the county board, the commissioners were posed with a problem as to the legality of granting a liquor license request.

Liquor licenses are handled by local government units, but are subject to state statutes that lay out the limitations under which they are issued. For establishments that sell liquor within city limits, each individual city is responsible for the issues of licenses. For those businesses in townships, the onus falls on the county. What initially appeared to be a simple approval of the license took an unexpected turn as the legality of the request was brought into question.

For several years, Whispering Pines Golf Course has received a 3.2 beer license from the county, but, when the application was being reviewed by the county, it was learned that the request was for a full liquor license, which poses a problem.

“Under state statute, there aren’t very many uses that qualify for a hard-liquor license,” Assistant County Attorney Brian Asleson said. “The county can give out liquor licenses in unincorporated areas for four uses — bowling centers, restaurants, clubs and hotels. I’m not sure that the golf course meets any of those standards.”

The only restriction the county has placed on its own is that an applicant must have seating for at least 100 people. In order for Whispering Pines to qualify under that statute, the seating capacity would have to be reduced because the indoor seating doesn’t meet that threshold and the menu items are very limited — primarily pizza, hot dogs and deli sandwiches. Board Chairman Pat Sawatzke said he doesn’t want to see the seating capacity lowered in fear it could cause a proliferation of rural drinking establishments.

“I’m concerned about lowering the number of the required seating too low,” Sawatzke said. “If we were to drop it to 40 or so, we could get a bunch of applications coming forward. I’m concerned about changing our ordinance for one establishment because there could be applications springing up everywhere.”

As the conversation continued, it was pointed out that the county has the ability to give out up to 10 seasonal liquor licenses that don’t require the same level of restrictions. Asleson said he could check into the legality of issuing such a license because, since the golf course isn’t open year-round, the seasonal liquor license could be a way to meet the standards needed for a license to be approved.

The board voted to table the item over one week so the needed research can be done. The matter was scheduled to be place on the April 2 agenda after the findings are made and the county attorney’s office can give a recommendation to the board.

In other items on the March 26 agenda, the board:

MET in closed session to discuss labor negotiations concerning the AFSCME/Human Services contract impasse and the pending arbitration hearing with the union representing the deputies in the sheriff’s department, which was scheduled to be heard by an arbitrator March 27. Although the board agenda called for the meeting to be reconvened after the closed session, the board meeting didn’t resume after it adjourned to meet behind closed doors to discuss strategy.

APPROVED the February revenue/expenditure guidelines. Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala told the board that nothing seemed out of line through the first two months of the budget year.

AUTHORIZED Hiivala to sign a contract with Wenck Associates Inc. for designing the plans and specifications for work that will be undertaken on County Ditch 10 and overseeing the project when it takes place. The cost of the Wenck contract was capped at $16,000. The repair project itself could cost as much as $100,000. All costs associated with ditch repairs are billed back to benefitted landowners along the ditch.

APPROVED a contract with Houston Engineering to modernize the county’s ditch records at a cost of $39,300. The plan is to convert all of the paper documents into a digital format so they can be more readily accessible to the public. It is expected that the project will be completed by late September or early October.

OPTED to go with Houston Engineering in a contract for engineering services for alternative repair solutions for County Ditch 38. Both Houston and Wenck bid the project and Houston’s bid was just $200 lower ($7,000 total) than the Wenck bid. Initially, both Commissioners Mark Daleiden and Charlie Borrell said they preferred Wenck because the company has been involved in the meetings with local residents along Ditch 38, but it appeared that the scope of the two proposals were almost identical. After getting Houston to agree to drop $300 from its bid due to the replication of effort from the previously approved ditch modernization documents, the board unanimously approved going with Houston at a cost not to exceed $6,700.

AUTHORIZED signatures on a trail easement agreement between Wright County and Three River Park District. While the county operates and maintains Beebe Lake Regional Park, Three Rivers Park District holds the title to the property. Any improvement projects in Beebe Lake Park must be mutually approved. No county dollars will be used for the proposed trail project, but the segment of the trail within the boundary of the park will be maintained by the county parks department.

APPROVED a claim of $5,266 to the firm of Madden, Galanteer & Hanson for work performed on behalf of the county in February in preparation for an arbitration hearing that was scheduled to be heard between the county and the Wright County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.


Contact John Holler at [email protected]