At the first Ephraim village board meeting after petitioners added questions of beer and wine to the April ballot, the consensus was no one really knows what is going to happen.
“In order to thoroughly inform everyone, I would suggest to the board for the motion that we hold a town meeting in which we get a representative from the Department of Revenue (DOR), they are liquor license pros, and come and present in his or her words exactly what the referendums means and to take questions from the audience,” said Board President Mike McCutcheon. “I think it’s very important that the voters know what they’re voting on because there are many consequences. I think we need as a community to have someone come in so that we all understand what we’re voting on.”
What the residents of Ephraim are voting on is the lawful sale of beer in taverns, restaurants, hotels and other establishments and the sale of wine in restaurants. But the details on these licenses are still fuzzy to both residents and board members.
“If I’ve had this much trouble, and there may be misinformation out there, I put to the board whether we want to have a meeting in the last 12 days of March in which we get someone from the DOR,” said McCutcheon after being told by the petitioner Hugh Mulliken that he was incorrect on his interpretation of a Class B beer license.
This formal meeting would bring in someone from the Division of Income, Sales and Excise Tax of the DOR to discuss the meaning of each referendum question as well as the board’s responsibilities should the referenda pass. It is up to the municipality to approve applications for beer and wine licenses as well as set the price for a license and put restrictions on when the drinks can be sold. The representative from the DOR will be able to explain how these rules work for the last dry municipality in the state.
McCutcheon found himself in mediation several times during the board meeting, as opinions on the pros and cons of the vote began to bleed into administrative discussion.
“There are going to be costs to the village and I think all the people need to know,” said board member Jane Olson. “I think it’s very important that the voters know what they’re voting on because there are many consequences.”
“Are there any benefits to the village?” asked Paul Burton from the audience, which McCutcheon interrupted to avoid a public debate.
McCutcheon brought forth the idea of a public forum following the formal meeting with the DOR. The village board would have no role in organizing or mediating the discussion, but simply leave the lights on in the town hall for residents to present their case to each other on the issue.
“The administration in the municipality cannot take sides so that would be the informal meeting,” said McCutcheon, who said he knows of a person who would speak against the issue on more personal topics, like drinking culture and the Moravian heritage in Ephraim, that the DOR would not comment on. “It’s just a further education that I don’t think we’re going to get out of the DOR. It’s got to be very specific for him about the rules. We can’t get into the other stuff.”
While supporting a question and answer session with the DOR, the public did not welcome the idea of a debate, believing it would simply be a perpetual argument between neighbors.
“We don’t need to debate it because we’re going to have the right to vote,” said one woman in the audience.
“I think a town hall meeting on this issue would just be a free-for-all,” said Burton. “Everyone would be unhappy and my blood pressure would be over the top. What’s the point? Everybody knows the issue.”
Still, the board voted unanimously to make the village hall available to rent for no cost after the meeting with the DOR adjourns. It is up to the residents of Ephraim to decide whether they will set up a debate to discuss 150-year-old rules in the last dry village in Wisconsin. A date for the meetings has not yet been set.