Ephraim will hold an informational meeting on alcohol licenses on Wednesday, March 23, at 6 pm in the village hall. The village will bring in Claire Silverman, legal counsel with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, to act as the informational authority on the details of the beer and wine referendum. The board hoped to have a representative from the Department of Revenue (DOR), but the department changed their mind about attending.
“What we had been promised through our village attorney was that a DOR [representative] would come and speak with the village,” said Brent Bristol, village administrator. “Basically, a chain of events led to them taking back that offer. I don’t know if they ran it up the ladder and weren’t comfortable. They pulled it out from under us.”
Bristol believed that the DOR was worried about implying they were taking sides on the issue and they would rather come to speak on the issue after the vote if it passes.
“There’s going to be a lot of work to do if it does pass,” said Steve Sauter, village board member.
That work includes setting the details of the licenses should the referendum pass. While village officials cannot dictate the vote, it can determine the details of the licenses it issues such as the times alcohol can be served and the cost for a license. Under state law, a municipality can charge up to $100 for each license in question on the referendum.
But there is still plenty that the village board is unsure of, such as the question posed by resident Kate Houston on the difference between binding referendums versus advisory referendums.
Silverman believes the vote will be binding.
“There is a procedure for requiring a referendum and then the results of that would be binding,” said Silverman, admitting that she will have to brush up on the laws on a municipality going from dry to wet before the March 23 meeting.
A binding referendum requires a law to be enacted at the will of the majority of voters while an advisory referendum is an unofficial vote to gauge voter opinion on a topic.
In 2014, the city of Sparta, Wis., held a referendum to allow the sale of beer in grocery and convenience stores, which passed by a very narrow margin according to the city clerk. The referendum was enacted following the majority vote without going back to the city council.
Bristol also confirmed with the village’s attorney that the vote will be binding. Ephraim’s referendum on beer and wine, if voted affirmatively, will require the village to adopt an ordinance allowing beer and wine licenses in the village.
At each board meeting since the petition for the referendum began, residents have had questions that the village board has been unable to answer. Their goal for this informational session is to have an objective answer to the legal details of the possible ordinances.
“I’m prepared to talk to them about what the various types of licenses authorize,” said Silverman. “Most municipalities issue licenses so it’s very uncommon. I don’t remember municipalities going from dry to wet. These sorts of things are rare.”
After the informational meeting, village residents will have 13 days before voting on the issue on April 5. If the vote passes, the village board will have to write an ordinance under a timeline set by the state and begin issuing the licenses.
Attempts to contact the Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement at the DOR were unsuccessful.