ELIZABETHTOWN - Compromise was the word of the day at Monday's Public Safety Committee meeting, as Essex County lawmakers gave initial approval to a measure that aims to change the county-wide last call for bars from 4 a.m. to 3 a.m., not 2 a.m. as had been previously proposed.
In March, Chesterfield town Supervisor Gerald Morrow introduced a resolution to change the county-mandated last call from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. He also made the motion to table the resolution so supervisors could have more time to discuss the change's impact with their constituents.
On Monday, it was Morrow who reintroduced the amended resolution. He said he revised it "for the sake of compromise." The measure would also nix a county law that requires liquor stores to close from noon to 3 p.m. on Good Friday.
Mac MacDevitt of the Substance Abuse Prevention Team of Essex County speaks to the county’s Public Safety Committee Monday about a proposal to change the county-wide last call for bars.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
The resolution passed with broad support; only Lewis town Supervisor David Blades opposed it, citing a disagreement with Morrow's proposal to kill the Good Friday liquor store law.
Much of the debate about the time change has taken place in Lake Placid, where three owners of bars that currently stay open until 3 a.m. said losing an hour would hurt their bottom line and take away pay from their employees. North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi said the bar owners and village of Lake Placid officials backed the compromise.
"I really don't think that the hour is as much a problem as the individual is," he said. "I think we all have a responsibility to act lawfully. There's no question that irresponsible people do irresponsible things. They cause problems. Using guns, alcohol, texting and driving - these all cause tragedies."
Politi said Lake Placid differs from other Essex County communities since it relies heavily on tourism to drive its economy.
"There is a consensus in the Lake Placid community that a 3 a.m. closing hour would suffice," he said.
Nick Planty, owner of Wiseguys Sports Bar and Grill on School Street in Lake Placid, called the compromise "responsible."
"We've never taken advantage and stayed open until 4 o'clock anyway," he told the Enterprise. "We've always respected the 3 o'clock (closing time) - the old law - and basically, that's where we wanted to see things go."
Rob Mullarney, owner of Roomers Nightclub on Main Street in Lake Placid, said he's glad supervisors took the extra time to make their decision.
"We're going to continue to be responsible and do our business," he said.
The resolution must now clear two more hurdles before the change is finalized: It must be approved by the Ways and Means Committee on April 29, then pass a weighted vote of the full Board of Supervisors on May 6.
Prior to the vote, Mac MacDevitt of the Substance Abuse Prevention Team of Essex County, a group that supported the change to 2 o'clock, told supervisors that 36 counties currently have on-premise closing hours earlier than Essex County. He noted that the 2 a.m. closing time means no more alcoholic beverages can be served after that time, and patrons can remain on the premises and continue drinking until 2:30 a.m.
MacDevitt said food and non-alcoholic beverages could be served after 2 a.m.
The goal of establishing an earlier closing time, MacDevitt said, is to cut down on binge drinking and alcohol-related crimes as well as improve public health and safety. He also said that alcohol abuse drives up other costs for things like Medicaid, probation, child welfare and preventive services, and indigent defense - all of which are tied to unfunded state mandates.
"Overall, you reduce the costs associated with alcohol-related problems," MacDevitt said. "The hardcore drinkers are going to keep drinking, but you have to remember: This is a preventive move."
MacDevitt told the Enterprise that he appreciates the amount of thought that went into the committee's decision.
"I think the Board of Supervisors has done a good job checking with all of their constituencies," he said. "I would like to see a 2 a.m. closing. In fact, I'd like to see a 1 a.m. closing. But I think that what it shows is that it's possible to get some real changes, changes in policy, here on the county level around alcohol issues. And I'm really encouraged by that."
Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said neither of the bars in his town stay open until 4 a.m., but they didn't want that option taken away.
"Ninety percent of us, this isn't even going to affect at all," he said.