The Town Council Monday said restaurants that do not show proof of liquor liability insurance by Nov. 30 will not be able to sell alcohol as of Thursday, Dec. 1. As many as four businesses fall into that category, said Town Clerk Leigh Carney.
The action marks the first time the council has instituted a hard deadline regarding the liquor liability insurance made mandatory by the state in 2017. Liquor licenses run from Dec. 1 to Nov. 30, on approval by the Town Council. This time of year always finds the council wading through a raft of applications. The online application system adopted by the town in recent years was supposed to ease the process and it has to some extent. In years past, for instance, there were often delays in getting clearance from the state Division of Taxation. Today, getting info from the state is “seamless,” Carney said.
Still, the online system has not proved to be quite as easy as had been hoped, for a couple of reasons, Carney and Town Manager Andy Nota said.
For one, recurrent email reminders are only effective if they are opened, read and acted upon. Carney said as of Tuesday there was one business in town that hadn’t even started the application process just days before its license is due to expire. “Many businesses don’t pay attention to the emails I send so I end up needing to call them,” said Carney, noting she’d been spending a lot of time on the phone in recent weeks.
Nota acknowledged the town was at fault for another big cause of the delays – ”We have not completed inspections.”
The application requires a number of things, including inspections from the fire marshal, the building official and the police. But inspections are only scheduled once a business begins the application process, which opens Sept. 1. If a business doesn’t actually start its application until Nov. 1, suddenly it’s difficult to get all the inspections lined up and completed by Nov. 30, especially if there’s an issue requiring a second inspection. “We are a lean team,” Nota said. Going forward, he said, maybe inspections should begin earlier. “The issue is, historically we have not started this process until applications are submitted, we can move that up.”
But Nota also said, “The majority of this is on the business owners. These business owners know what November means. … It may take a behavior change. It may take an action that nobody wants to have happen.”
As of Tuesday morning, only four businesses had received their renewed liquor license: Drip, Natales, Greenwich Club and End Zone.
All other restaurants and liquor stores had at least one aspect of their license outstanding. In most cases, Carney said, it was the fire inspection. As has happened frequently in the past, those businesses will be given an extension on their liquor license – in this case, until Dec. 12, the date of the Town Council’s next meeting – as long has they have shown proof of liquor liability insurance.
“With the history of our Legion post, we simply cannot have [businesses operating without proof of liability insurance.] It violates the law,” said Councilor Mike Donegan. He was referring to the American Legion Post 15, which did not have liquor liability insurance in 2019, at the time a patron left the legion and proceeded to crash into a car carrying Patty Daniels, resulting in her death. The legion was unable to secure the insurance and was forced to stop serving alcohol. The legion subsequently closed and sold the building.
The council will take up the issue of licenses at its Dec. 12 meeting.