October 10, 2012

City says “OK” to unlimited off-sale licenses

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While no one can say for sure how many off-sale liquor licenses will be issued in Watford City in the future, the Watford City City Council decided last Monday night that only having one off-sale license was not enough.
In a 4-1 vote, the council approved a new ordinance that takes the limit of one off-sale license being available for every 3,000 city residents  based on the latest federal census and replaced it with an ordinance providing an unlimited number of off-sale licenses.
And that change in the city ordinance didn’t sit too well with the Watford City Community Benefit Association (WCCBA), which has held the only off-sale license in this growing community since the early 1950s.
According to Steve Stenehjem, secretary of the WCCBA, the group was formed in the early 1950s to help build the hospital, and later, the nursing home in Watford City.
“We (the WCCBA) purchased all of the existing off-sale liquor licenses in the community at that time,” stated Stenehjem. “Since then, it has been the policy of the board to donate 100 percent of the liquor store’s profits back into the community.”
And according to Stenehjem, since the 1950s, the WCCBA has donated in excess of $750,000 to help build a variety of community buildings in the city.
But according to Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, the changes in the ordinance were not made to hurt the WCCBA, but rather to meet the needs of a growing community.
“The WCCBA has given away over $750,000 and that is a very impressive number,” stated Sanford. “The problem is that our current ordinance needs work and changes needed to be made. It is not being developed to ruin the WCCBA or to run it out of business.”
But for Justin Voll, the lone dissenting vote on the city council for the new ordinance, changing the ordinance has not been easy.
“We know two things,” stated Voll. “The existing ordinance is not relevant and the existing facility is not adequate.”
And Voll expressed his concern about how expanding the number of liquor licenses could impact the WCCBA and its future donations.
According to Voll, the only other source of major funds for most community projects comes from the Roughrider Fund, which is funded from the city’s one-cent city sales tax.
“The Roughrider Fund has a sunset clause, and if it were to go away, why would we want this (the WCCBA) to go away?
Voll, who serves on the fund drive for the new Connie Wold Wellness Center, noted that it was a relief to the fund drive effort when the WCCBA donated the first time and then came back with a second donation to bring its total contribution to $150,000.
And according to Dan Kelly, CEO of the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems, the WCCBA has been very generous throughout the years.
“We have received in excess of $500,000 from the WCCBA over the years,” stated Kelly.
But for Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Job Development Authority executive director, it is not just about the money, rather the ability to adequately serve the public.
“We need relief at the liquor store,” stated Veeder. “The demand is too large for the existing facility. They either need to move to a new location  or expand. Or we have to allow someone else to provide the service.”
To which Stenehjem stated that the WCCBA is willing to expand.
“We have a 15-year lease on the existing location with the city,” stated Stenehjem. “And we’re willing to move to a new location.”
According to Stenehjem, it was because of the WCCBA’s efforts that the Long X Visitor Center became a reality, and that the once blighted corner on Main Street was cleaned up and turned into something that the entire community was proud of.
“We’ve done a good job for the community,” stated Stenehjem. “I thought we were appreciated by the community. It’s amazing how quickly people forget.”