County commissioners, in their role as the liquor board, voted 3-2 Thursday to raise liquor license fees, some for the first time in 20 years.
The action drew discussion from bar and restaurant owners objecting to increased costs in a fragile economy, and from two commissioners who were concerned the hikes are across-the-board rather than a tiered approach.
The vote to raise the fees followed the board's unanimous approval of a complete overhaul of regulations on liquor sale licenses.
"The fees are not a revenue generator," said Assistant District Attorney Michael McCormick in his last official appearance before he retired.
He was joined by Sheriff Ron Pierini who outlined how the fees are charged toward calls for service and other duties of the sheriff's office generated by liquor sales.
"Somebody suggested to me if the bars are charging the same as 1992, the fees shouldn't go up. I can't speak to that," McCormick said.
"It's a decision for you as the liquor board - to decide what is in the best interests of the county and the community," McCormick said.
Burr Otto, owner of Buona Sera Ristorante & Bar in Minden, said with the new rates, his cabaret fee would go up 53 percent.
"When I opened 2-1/2 years ago, you said you would do everything possible to help make my business successful. This doesn't do that. Raising my cabaret fee up to 50 percent doesn't help me stay in business or employ people," Otto said.
Citing the number of empty storefronts, Otto said when he generates more revenue, he pays more to the county.
"The county gets their share," Otto said. "I don't think many businesses can survive a 53 percent increase in taxes."
Tom Hunter, who owns Nevada Ugly, said the cost would be passed on to patrons.
"This isn't just affecting the liquor distributors," he said. "It's the trickle down effect. I'm going to have to charge a little more to the distiller, the distributor and the construction worker."
Hunter suggested bringing up the increase "when the economy is doing a little better."
Steve Orlando, who owns Buckaroos, said he has to keep prices competitive.
"I can't raise prices any more. They'll just go someplace else. We are struggling so hard to pay bills, keep our employees working. Every dollar counts in our business right now," Orlando said.
Commissioner Greg Lynn said by ignoring the fact that the fees didn't cover costs "means the public has to ask itself if it wants to subsidize the industry."
Commissioner Mike Olson, who voted against the increase along with Lee Bonner, suggested a step approach based on a establishment's square footage and the number of calls for service.
"I think we can do some work on this," he said.
Sheriff Ron Pierini said the increase in fees would help pay for calls for service.
"Look at what happened July 4 at Lake Tahoe," Pierini said. "We had more arrests than we do on New Year's. Somebody has to cover that. We're doing a lot for businesses, help them. We want to be fair and reasonable to cover our costs. The taxpayers shouldn't have to cover those costs."
Olson suggested billing each establishment for calls, but Pierini said arrests aren't made every time there is a call out.
"It kind of penalizes the bar owners for mishaps of people who go there to drink," Bonner said.
Fees for caterers and special events haven't been raised since 1979.
The projected increase is expected to add $40,000 to the current annual revenue of $174,127.
Under the new fee structure, a liquor license application of $500, last raised in 2007, would be $750. That compares to $1,500 in Carson City and $603 in Reno.
The fee hike passed 3-2 with commissioners Doug Johnson, Lynn and Nancy McDermid in support.
The new rates go into effect Oct. 12.