Survey is next step for beer/wine committee
As the final step in an evaluation process that has lasted several months, Tisbury's beer and wine review committee plans to mail a one-page survey to taxpayers, possibly with town tax bills that go out on July 1.
Tim McLean, town treasurer and tax collector, awaits a judgment from state officials on the legality of including the survey in the tax bill mailing. Although the committee would like to complete the survey sooner, dovetailing the mailing with tax bills would save the town $1,000 to $1,200.
In the meantime, committee members will work on summarizing their findings about rules and regulations, dry and wet town survey results, interviews with town officials and ordinary citizens, and a business survey. Once the taxpayer survey results are in, they will release a 10- to 15-page executive summary.
"This is the final puzzle piece," said committee chairman John Coskie. "The taxpayers' survey is last, and it may yield some interesting things. It will allow taxpayers to rank the level of importance of beer and wine to other issues in the town, such as a movie theater, noise, and traffic. We kind of get our finger on the pulse without asking the question yes or no, but asking questions that help understand the thought process."
Last fall, the Tisbury Business Association (TBA), which supports the proposal to allow limited beer and wine sales in Vineyard Haven restaurants, asked the selectmen to appoint a committee to study the potential impact of alcohol sales on the town. The selectmen appointed an eight-member committee in January, tasking them with weighing the benefits versus the detriments of beer and wine sales in restaurants, including the impact on the town's quality of life.
The committee has met weekly since February. With a fairly balanced mix of pro, con, and neutral opinions about beer and wine sales, members tried to stick to fact-finding as much as possible and put personal feelings aside. In order to gather quantifiable data, the committee took a multi-pronged approach, conducting a business survey in March, researching the licensing process and possible regulations, consulting other Massachusetts towns about the impacts they experienced in changing from dry to wet, and interviewing several town officials, educators, businessmen, and residents.
In early March, the committee mailed out a survey to all 600-plus registered Tisbury businesses asking what, if any, impact beer and wine sales would have on their business in terms of employee needs, and profit or loss.
At the committee's March 30 meeting, Mr. Coskie said preliminary survey results revealed that for the most part, businesses indicated alcohol sales would not make a big impact on them. About 40 percent included comments on their surveys. Mr. Coskie said he was surprised to read that several business owners felt the issue of improving Vineyard Haven's waterfront area is more important than serving beer and wine.
Once the committee finishes studying and compiling the data from the business survey, a more detailed analysis will be released.
Over the past several weeks, the committee set up interviews with town and emergency services personnel, educators, and businessmen to ask their opinions on whether beer and wine sales would affect their jobs.
Several of them - including police chief Ted Saulnier, fire chief John Schilling, assessor Patty Blakesley, Tim McLean, treasurer and tax collector, and Fred LaPiana, department of public works chairman - said that beer and wine sales would have little impact on their departments or jobs. Peg Regan, principal of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, told the committee that the impact on students would be negligible.
Chief Saulnier, Chief Schilling, and Ms. Regan did qualify their remarks by stating they did not endorse the idea of allowing full liquor licenses, bars or package stores in the town, however. Asked about their personal opinions on the subject, the interviewees were divided.
The committee also heard from several people who spoke passionately against beer and wine sales, including Jay Wilbur, Tisbury harbormaster, Katherine Kavanagh, the director of alternative programs at MVRHS, and Nat Benjamin of Gannon and Benjamin Shipyard.
"People we've spoken to on both sides of the issue were for the most part against bars, against full liquor licenses, and against beer and wine being served in a take-out environment," said Mr. Coskie. "The opinion that has come through from everybody is that maintaining the character of the town is number one, from people on both sides of the issue."
Licensing and regulations
In looking at licensing and regulations, the committee found that the state would allow Vineyard Haven five full beer and wine licenses and an unlimited number of seasonal licenses. Seasonal licenses run from April 1 to Nov. 30, unless extended at the discretion of the town to no later than Jan. 15 of the following year.
If the town chooses to license beer and wine sales, restaurant patrons lose their option to bring their own. The taxpayer survey will address the "convenience factor," asking Tisbury residents whether they dine in other towns so they can buy beer or wine with meals.
"Some people have indicated they'd like to leave things alone. They like bringing their own bottle of their favorite wine to a restaurant. Some business owners said the same," Mr. Coskie pointed out.
When dry towns go wet
Among Massachusetts's 350 cities and towns, 17 are dry, including 4 of the 6 Island towns. The committee drew up a list of Massachusetts towns that recently went wet, changed from sales of beer and wine to full liquor licenses, or decided to remain dry, and contacted town officials about their experiences.
Rockport, the closest match to Tisbury, went "wet" in April 2005, with the largest turnout for an election in years. Rockport's town administrator told the committee there have been no additional costs or problems associated with alcohol sales, and that the town expects to gain $16,000 in revenue from the sales a year.
Rockport's selectmen are allowed to issue up to 10 year-round and 20 seasonal all-alcohol licenses to restaurants, and an unlimited number of one-day licenses. No bars or package stores will be allowed in town. Alcohol may be served only at licensed restaurants when accompanied by a meal, and specifically not with the sole purchase of snacks such as chips and pretzels.
What happens next
Although the committee had planned in earlier meetings to host a public forum this summer, Mr. Coskie said, "The selectmen would need to charge us to go forward. We thought it would be difficult to quantify taxpayers' opinions in terms of cost and revenue benefits, so we had considered having a public forum. But because of a lack of definition of what beer and wine sales in restaurants really means, it would be a freefall."
Instead, the committee agreed the taxpayer survey would be a logical next step. "Until you have something that is very well defined, it's hard to ask someone to comment. We would be asking people to comment on something very amorphous," Mr. Coskie said.
Once the taxpayer survey and executive summary are completed, the committee will wait for further direction. "If the selectmen want us to go forward and structure something, then we would put something together. How do you put beer and wine sales in restaurants in a box that people can comment on with more specificity until you can better define it?" Mr. Coskie asked.
The recent election of Denys Wortman adds a new selectman to the mix. When asked whether he supported beer and wine sales in restaurants during his campaign, Mr. Wortman replied that Tisbury voters will make the decision on beer and wine sales, not the selectmen. In discussions about beer and wine committee appointments several months ago, selectman Tom Pachico said he was not against the idea of someone having a beer or glass of wine with a meal, but opposed serving alcohol in any type of fast-food setting. Selectman Tristan Israel said his biggest concern is whether alcohol sales will change the town's character.
At a meeting a few weeks ago, committee members Gretchen Snyder, Tom Rabbitt, John Jones, and Nancy Hall updated the Tisbury selectmen on their progress. The selectmen told them they estimate it could be two years before the alcohol question is put before Tisbury's voters.