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Cabaret fee hike draws flak, put on hold

Members of the Oak Harbor City Council sent proposed amendments to the cabaret ordinance back to the drawing board Tuesday.

The proposal called for a revamping of the 1972 nightlife ordinance, which regulates Oak Harbor businesses that provide entertainment including dancing, singing, music and liquor after 10 p.m.

The amendments call for a fee increase from $150 to $500 per year, replacing the term “cabaret” with the term “nightclub,” clarify that the content of the music does not affect the licensing process, and gives the city the right to add individualized license conditions based on size, hours and location, among others.

From comments before council at the public hearing Tuesday night, those changes were the least of current license holders’ worries. It was the money that mattered.

“I can’t believe you guys want a 233 percent raise,” said Kelly Beedle, owner of Oak Harbor Tavern, referring to the license fee increase.

Oak Harbor Tavern manager Steve Despopoulos, a tavern employee for the last 15 years, agreed. The tavern is courteous to its neighbors, has never needed police intervention and never gotten a noise complaint, he said. He doesn’t have a problem with most of the amendments.

“What we do take issue with is the $500 fee, an amount that is exorbitant for such a small business such as ours,” he said.

Despopoulos added that if the council needed to raise the fee, they should consider an increase in fines for violations or extra police coverage, but not through the licensing fee.

Element Nightclub owner Mike Kummerfeldt also felt the fee was on the steep side, suggesting the city look at alternatives means to determine the fee.

“I would not be opposed to a prorated fee based on occupancy,” he said.

In response to Despopoulos’ suggestion, Margery Hite, city attorney, said that the licensing fee is not for police protection, adding that the fee is for extra administrative costs associated with the new investigative measures allowed through the amendments.

Despite the administrative costs, Councilman Jim Palmer was not happy with the fee increase.

“I just think we ought to look at the 500 bucks,” he said.

Police Chief Rick Wallace responded by saying the new fee is based on discussions between the city administration, attorney and himself.

Hite added that the increase was based on the estimated amount of administrative hours that will go into the licensing process, calling it an “investigative task.”

The discussion changed from how to decrease the fee to how to make up the administrative cost of time spent on the licensing process.

“It seems to me that the penalties are minor in regards to the cost of police enforcement,” Councilman Rick Almberg said, suggesting that the licensing fee be reduced and violation fines increased.

Mayor Jim Slowik took a quick census of the council members, revealing that most seemed to agree the proposed licensing fee is too high and the penalties too low.

Council voted to send the proposed amendments back to staff. The next council meeting will be held on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. at City Hall 865 SE Barrington Dr.

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