ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County lawmakers took the first step Monday toward requiring bars in the county to stop serving alcohol at an earlier hour.
The present 4 a.m. closing time for taverns to cease alcohol sales would be lowered to 3 a.m. under the proposal put forward by Supervisor Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield).
The measure passed the Public Safety Committee of the County Board of Supervisors 7 to 1, with Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) opposed and Supervisor Edward Hatch (D-Willsboro) absent.
Blades said he opposed the resolution because it also removes a rule that liquor stores must close between noon and 3 p.m. every Good Friday. Morrow said the prohibition had never been enforced.
The change to 3 a.m. gets a preliminary vote at a Ways and Mean session April 29 and a final vote May 6 at the board’s regular meeting.
If approved, the State Liquor Authority would make the final decision after a public hearing.
The 3 a.m. closing time was a compromise, since Mac MacDevitt of the Essex County Substance Abuse Prevention Team in Ticonderoga had recommended last month that the closing time be moved to 2 a.m.
MacDevitt made another presentation to the Board of Supervisors Monday, telling them it is an important issue to discuss.
He said that if the law were changed to require a 2 a.m. closing time, that only meant alcohol could not be served after that hour.
“The business can stay open, continue to serve food, which I understand is an issue in Lake Placid.
“Patrons can stay.”
‘PROTECT YOUR FOLKS’
Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba) said Lake Placid has a different economy than the rest of the county, with events that run over into later hours.
“There is a consensus in the Lake Placid community that a 3 a.m. closing hour would suffice,” he said.
MacDevitt said he believes making the closing hour 2 a.m. would reduce alcohol-based problems and their costs, along with binge drinking, and would improve the neighborhood quality of life and health and safety.
“A small percentage of the people drink 50 percent of the alcohol,” he said. “You want to protect your folks from excessive drinking.”
“In a licensed premises, is binge drinking a real concern or is it a concern for off-premises drinking?” Blades asked.
“It is a problem in licensed premises, and we know that because when they stop someone for DWI, it comes up that they were recently at a licensed premises,” MacDevitt said.
“You have three beers and you’re on your way to intoxication.”
Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) said if the bars close two hours earlier, patrons may just go somewhere else.
“It’s a Catch-22. Maybe they are better in that licensed premises. You close those bars earlier, you may be sending those people you’re trying to help into another set of circumstances.”
MacDevitt said only 21 counties in the state have a 4 a.m. closing time; the others are 2 or 3 a.m.
“You’re looking at changing the norm,” he said. “The 4 a.m. is way at the end of the spectrum.”
Politi said the closing time is only one of the factors that affect alcohol misuse.
“I don’t think the hour is as much a problem as the individual,” he said. “Irresponsible people do irresponsible things. These (factors) all cause tragedies.”
Preston said he spoke with owners of businesses that sell alcohol in his town and they were against a 2 a.m. closing time.
“We are a tourist county. That is our main economy.
“I think 3 a.m. is a good compromise.”
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