On March 16, the New Port Richey City Council continued to compromise the city's long-standing ordinance prohibiting alcohol consumption and sales on public land by voting to approve serving alcohol at the city library during fundraising events.
More than 10 years ago a referendum asked residents whether they wanted to open the small park on Missouri Avenue to the sale of alcohol for downtown events. The majority said no. Still, the city opened Cavalier Square to alcohol sales. Several years later, the area was increased to include the center core of the downtown district; and just last year, Sims Park and the park around Orange Lake were approved as sites for alcohol sales. Today, it's the library; and don't be surprised if the near future brings requests to have alcohol sales at the new recreation and aquatic center.
In the late 1990s, I voted against alcohol sales in Cavalier Square. But, as a sitting council member in 2005, I voted to expand the area to the center of downtown because the Police Department assured the City Council that this would allow better control of activity relating to alcohol use. I regret my vote allowing that expansion and for not having the foresight to realize that giving an inch inevitably results in the taking of miles.
Last year, I strongly opposed the request to expand the range of permitted alcohol sales yet again — to the city's two landmark parks. The vote was 4-1.
Most recently the Friends of the Library with the support of the Library Advisory Board requested authorization to serve alcohol at library events and functions. It just so happens I am a member of the Library Advisory Board and the only one who voted not to support the effort.
This is not obstructionism on my part. My questions remain the same: Is serving alcohol on public land really that necessary? Does it fit the tradition and character of this community? It comes down to the essential question of why exactly our city government is crippling its decades-old ordinance prohibiting alcohol use in public places; and, now, actually endorsing public drinking in our community?
There is another way for our library and local nonprofits to raise money, if that is what they are striving to do. Rather than continue to open public venues to alcohol sales, wouldn't it be wiser to allow our downtown bars and restaurants to benefit from such sales? Rather than compete with established and licensed businesses, let's work with our downtown pubs and eateries so that all can benefit.
For instance, the library could save the initial up-front costs (more than $350) for the permits and insurance just so the Friends of the Library could hold an event and serve alcohol in the library. Why not, instead, partner with one of our downtown bars or restaurants? The Friends of the Library could easily hold a fine fundraiser after which attendees could take the short walk over to the library for additional functions, tours, and programs. Pursuing this alternative would broaden the base of the library's outreach, promote the downtown, build community and serve as a model for similar initiatives both large and small.
My interest in this matter is not motivated by any personal objections to the sale or consumption of alcohol. Hardly! I enjoy a cocktail as much as the next person. But, other options are available, and city residents have voted in opposition to allowing alcohol sales in the public spaces of our community.
Marilynn deChant served on the New Port Richey Council from 2005 to 2009.