BROOKSVILLE — Residents can now tip their glass to the new way officials have found to generate revenue for county parks.
County commissioners on Tuesday approved a limited experiment to allow staffers to sell beer and wine at specified county events. The first will be a Reggae Fest planned for Linda Pedersen Park in Hernando Beach at the end of April.
Parks and recreation director Pat Fagan, who noted that in 31 years he had never made such a request of the commission, said that generating revenue to run parks and recreation programs was going to be "a big challenge'' over the next couple of years.
Alcohol sales could help, and he noted that several other cities and counties — including Brooksville and Citrus, Lee, Martin and Broward counties — sell alcohol during special events in parks. Beer is also sold at the Hernando County Fair.
Fagan had suggested that as many as three events per year be permitted for alcohol sales. A second was to be a Fall Music Festival at Linda Pedersen Park in September; the third was to be added next year.
But commissioners balked at doing too much too quickly and asked instead that the county staff try the first event, then bring back information about whether there were any problems as well as an analysis of whether the event generated any revenue.
Extra expenses are expected for security at the event. And county staffers had researched how much it would cost to buy liability insurance for the two events — $1,482.
While the county could allow a vendor to sell alcohol, Fagan suggested that county staffers be trained to run the beer and wine concession.
Residents posed a variety of questions, including how the county could justify serving alcohol when families using the parks cannot bring alcohol to consume, how the county would control the consumption and what liability the county could face if someone decided to drive away impaired.
Assistant County Attorney Erica Moore explained that drunk driving is a criminal offense and that the county could not erase an individual's responsibility to follow the law. The liability policy the county was looking to purchase would cover any additional legal concerns, she said.
Fagan said that since this was the first time the county was proposing to sell alcohol in parks, the county staff would work hard to make sure that safety is assured.
Commissioner Rose Rocco noted that the idea was "something that could be productive as long as it's controlled'' and as long as the county is protected legally.
Commissioner Jim Adkins suggested that the first event be held, then analyzed, especially since it is a new idea. "Then we could see if we wanted to do it again in September,'' he said.
"I think he makes a good point,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins.
Stabins said an analysis of whether the first event makes any money should be "critically important.''
County recreation manager Harry Johnson cautioned the board, noting that the first event was meant to be small and just "to test the waters'' for alcohol sales. Larger events, when there is more time to advertise, would generate more financial benefit, he said.
Commissioners also questioned what would happen with the premium for the liability insurance if just one event was held. Fagan said he would look into that question.
Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to the one-time try at alcohol sales, with only Dave Russell dissenting.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.