Trouble brewing? City debates malt permits

By Sarah Pridgeon

Though state law allows anyone who does not already hold a liquor license to buy a 24-hour malt beverage permit with city approval, the City of Sundance has historically banned any vendor who does not sell alcohol all year round to buy a permit during Rally Week. At this month’s regular meeting, the city council discussed recent rumblings of discontent about the policy but, for now, decided not to change the rules.

“We are being approached by the convenience stores that are selling food. They want to be able to sell a beer and a brat, or a beer and a burger,” explained Mayor Paul Brooks.

“They’re saying: you let the bars do it, you let the Horseman’s Association do it, you let anybody who’s having a wedding dance do it, why can’t we do it? It’s actually stirred up quite a little controversy around town.”

The council follows the policy of only allowing those vendors who sell alcohol in Sundance all year round to also sell alcohol during Rally.

“Years ago, when the bar owners had kind of a stranglehold on local politics, they just didn’t allow it,” said Brooks. “They wouldn’t allow that discussion because they felt like they were here year round without that motorcycle type stuff. These people are saying everybody can’t get served the way it is and there’s enough business for all of us.”

In defense of the policy, the mayor noted that “it becomes kind of a policing nightmare” if beer is sold at various locations around town. Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Lenz told the council that, in other local towns, rules are imposed on 24-hour beverage licenses to discourage frivolous applications.

“They have to have insurance, they have to have porta-potties, the fees are high,” she said. “Then they have a clean-up fee, it’s pretty strict.”

In Sundance, however, port-potties are provided by the city during the Rally festivities.

“In fairness, we don’t charge the bars. We don’t charge anybody for porta-potties – it seems like we have a huge porta-potty debate in this town once a year and then we have to go out and beg people to let us put porta-potties out,” said the mayor, earning a laugh from the audience.

Police Chief Todd Fritz pointed out that changing the policy could be damaging for local businesses.

“Some of the people in town that really don’t like the rally but realize that it’s good for business are not going to be real happy if people come in from Gillette or South Dakota, sell beer and take away business from our locals,” he said.

Kathy Cluff of Crook County Prevention & Health Coalition offered her opinion that providing more places to buy alcohol will increase the problem of binge drinking.

“We’re working on binge drinking within the coalition right now, and the reason we’re working on that is that we have a problem in our county,” she said.

The coalition, she explained, uses an evidence-based strategy of reducing the number of available outlets to buy alcohol, which simultaneously reduces the amount of alcohol being bought. She asked the council to consider the example being set to young people, noting that 97 percent of domestic violence is linked to alcohol.

The council passed a motion to deny permits as usual for this year’s rally, but decided to revisit the question in time for next year. Council Member Ken Denzin, who was of the opinion that the council should give local businesses the chance to make some money, voted against the motion.