A new ordinance compelling bars in Point Beach to either stop serving alcohol at midnight or pay a fee is on the agenda for tonight's Point Beach Borough Council meeting.
The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Borough Hall on New Jersey Avenue.
The new ordinance (see first attachment) no longer gives bars an option on how long past midnight they want to serve alcohol. The choice is to stop at midnight or stop at 2 a.m.
The first version of the ordinance (see third attachment), narrowly introduced at the March 20 meeting, gave bars the option to stop serving alcohol at a time of their choosing between midnight and 2 a.m. if they paid the town a fee, based partially on maximum occupancy.
The original ordinance is on tonight's agenda for second reading and adoption. The new ordinance is on the agenda for introduction.
The new ordinance mandates that a fee of $60 per person for two hours (midnight to 2 a.m.) be paid, based on the maximum occupancy of each bar, compared to the first ordinance, which had different rates.
The new ordinance also allows the owners to define the area of occupancy, said Mayor Vincent Barrella.
For example, he said, Jenkinson's could decide to only serve alcohol in the front section (closest to the boardwalk) of their pavilion after midnight, which would reduce their maximum occupancy and, therefore, their fee.
"The amount of money paid would be less, but it's not really about the money, it's about having a mechanism," Barrella said. "This ordinance (compared to the original) is more uniform, it simplifies and furthers the choices."
Councilman Stephen Reid said in a telephone interview on Monday that he will not support the new ordinance, just as he voted no on the first.
"I'll never support anything that's extortion," he said. "This isn't about quality of life. This is about a money grab."
The mayor and council members who supported the first ordinance have said the fees will help pay for police, a cost that far exceeded expectations last summer.
Reid said the better alternative is to negotiate with bar owners without having a proposal on the table that they are against.
John B. Livelli, an attorney with Robinson, Wettre and Miller, LLC, Newark, representing Jenkinson's and Martell's, wrote a letter (see second attachment), dated on Monday, to the mayor and council stating they do not have the right to mandate that bars stop serving at midnight or pay a fee and threatening to sue if the original ordinance is passed and also if a proposed parking plan is passed.
He also says in a footnote in the letter that he is aware a new ordinance may be introduced on Tuesday night and that his clients reserve the right to file legal challenges to that as well.
When asked to respond to the letter, Barrella said, "I'm not surprised this letter or something like it came to us. I disagree with the recitation of some of the facts and legal analysis."
Borough Attorney Sean Gertner said on Tuesday afternoon that it would not be appropriate for him to comment on Livelli's letter before discussing it with the governing body.
Livelli asserts in his letter that the Division of Alchol and Beverage Control (ABC) of the state Department of Law and Public Safety will not allow Point Beach to impose fees to serve beyond midnight because bars in town already pay the maximum fee of $2,500 allowed by ABC regulations for their liquor licenses.
Zachariah Hosseini, a spokesperson for ABC, said on Tuesday afternoon that municipalities have the right to regulate hours of operation and the serving of alcohol of establishments that have liquor licenses.
Regarding whether bars in town already pay the "maximum" fee for licenses, he said, "We don't regulate the market for liquor licenses. That's regulated by the town."
Regarding Livelli's assertion that ABC will not allow Point Beach to mandate that bars stop serving at midnight or pay a fee, Hosseini said, "We can't comment on the validity of that argument until it gets to the point that the town or the bars write to us asking for information or an opinion or it gets litigated."
The ABC would be the venue for such litigation, he added.
"Right now, this is still a local issue," he said. "This is not our business yet."
Patch will be at the meeting to provide additional coverage.