County hikes liquor license fees

Outcry leads commission to back off larger increase

Posted 3/10/20

After a host of business owners objected, Park County commissioners backed off plans to more than double the cost of the county’s most popular liquor licenses, settling on more modest increases …

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County hikes liquor license fees

Outcry leads commission to back off larger increase


After a host of business owners objected, Park County commissioners backed off plans to more than double the cost of the county’s most popular liquor licenses, settling on more modest increases last week.

“I don’t have a problem with the rate going up, because I understand everything kind of steps,” said Fred Siebert of the Red Barn gas station in Wapiti, which sells malt beverages. “But a little at a time would be beneficial to everybody — not a giant leap.”

Owners of several North and South Fork guest ranches added that the county’s proposed rate hikes were so dramatic — going from $600 a year to $1,500 on the most common license — that they might lose money on the alcohol they sell during their relatively short operating seasons.

Commissioners eventually voted to raise the retail and restaurant liquor license fees to $800 a year — a $200 and $300 increase, respectively. An annual malt beverage permit, like the one used by the Red Barn, will rise from $200 to $400.

Among Wyoming’s other 22 counties, Park County’s fees remain below average for retail and restaurant liquor licenses, while being pricier for malt beverage permits, according to data compiled by the clerk’s office.

The increased fees for serving alcohol in rural Park County come as part of a broader effort to narrow the county’s budget deficit, thought to be as high as $2 million. The commission plans to raise other fees next week — including on permits for some developments and for any work inside the county’s rights-of-way — at its March 17 meeting. The final list of proposed fee hikes isn’t expected to be available until later this week.

“We’ve always been able to balance our budget and build our reserves,” Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said at the board’s March 3 meeting, but “we’re not there anymore, because of the downturn in the economy in the state of Wyoming.”

Tilden added that the county’s costs have gone up since the liquor license fees were last increased, more than a decade ago.

In January, commissioners endorsed the idea of raising the annual retail liquor license rate from $600 to the $1,500 maximum — the same amount charged by the cities of Powell and Cody — while tripling the price of more limited restaurant liquor licenses from $500 to $1,500 and more than doubling the malt beverage permit to $500.

As part of the process, the county notified the 29 liquor license holders of its plans to change the fees and scheduled last week’s public hearing. Representatives from multiple guest ranches — which hold the bulk of the retail liquor licenses — weighed in via written letters and in person at the meeting. Beyond protesting the sheer size of the increases, the ranch owners said they already don’t make much money off alcohol sales.

“The margins are very tight and we’re doing this for convenience for our guests and local people in the area,” said Joel Baum of Rand Creek Ranch in Wapiti, which holds a malt beverage permit, “and when … you’re doubling it [the fee] pretty much, it just makes it a little tougher …”

With the limited season that most guest ranches operate under, “a lot of folks are having a hard time just buying $2,000 worth of alcohol” to meet the state requirements for a retail license, added Mike Christiansen of Shoshone Lodge.

Given the relatively low volume of business, Christiansen said the guest ranches couldn’t raise the price of food and drinks enough to cover the added liquor license fees and would have to raise lodging rates.

Matt Dzialak, co-owner of the Double Diamond X Ranch on the South Fork, specifically expressed concern about pricing out the middle-income families that currently stay at his facility.

“I think that the community overall has a little pride in that we’re not Jackson; I’m not charging Jackson rates and I’m not so sure if we can sustain this if we had to raise rates across the board — not only at the bar, but wherever we have a program that’s working for us,” Dzialak said. “The guest ranch, it’s razor-thin.”

Commissioner Lee Livingston agreed that going from $600 to $1,500 was “a substantial increase” and asked the roughly 10 businessmen and women present if they had a better suggestion.

“I mean, work with us a little bit on this,” Livingston said.

Dzialak said he preferred “zero,” saying any increase was “a hardship, it really is.”

He noted that the county is in the midst of an overhaul of the South Fork Road — a federally led, $14.4 million project that includes $2.36 million from county coffers.

“We’re seeing money going out and so … what we would say is, we need to reel in what we’re spending money on,” Dzialak said.

It was suggested that the county create seasonal licenses, but First Deputy County Clerk Hans Odde said the law does not allow that. The group generally seemed OK, if not happy, with the smaller increases settled on by commissioners.

“Thanks for coming out, folks,” said Livingston. “That’s how this stuff happens. I mean, I get so many calls from people saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want this, I don’t want this,’ then no one shows up.”

Commissioner Jake Fulkerson also thanked the license holders for being civil, professional and neighborly in raising their objections.

“We see the other side — we appreciate your input,” he said.

Commissioners also raised the prices of resort liquor licenses and microbrewery and winery permits, but no businesses currently hold those permits. As for license holders that want to serve alcohol at an offsite event, the cost of a 24-hour permit is rising from $25 to $50.

All told, the fee hikes approved last week is expected to raise an extra $6,000 a year or so for the county coffers. The new rates will take effect in July.


County liquor license fee increases

  Old Proposed New State Average
Retail Liquor License $600.00 $1,500.00 $800.00 $978.00
Restaurant Liquor License $500.00 $1,500.00 $800.00 $1,124.00
Malt Beverage Permit $200.00 $500.00 $400.00 $341.67