Mayor Larry Henkelman was faced with serious questions from business owners about the proposed liquor sales bylaw.
Members of the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce met Dec. 18 to discuss whether they should support or oppose a recent business hours bylaw that passed first reading. Mayor Larry Henkelman took a few minutes to explain the motivation behind town council’s decision for first reading.
Council has considered this bylaw since 2009 and there has been several meetings in that time discussing the idea of a business hours bylaw.
He feels articles in the Ponoka News have made it difficult for councillors to get the proper information out to the public. “According to our paper (Ponoka News) we have different bylaws, we have a booze sales bylaw and a bylaw to keep Indians out of town and I must say I’m a little frustrated because in the last few weeks I’ve been putting out fires all over central Alberta and all over Hobbema also.”
One of the questions posed to councillors was whether the town can impose a business hours bylaw.
“Under the Municipal Government Act, sections 3, 7, 8 and 9, the council may pass bylaws respective to the safety, health and welfare of people and protection of people and property,” Henkelman explained.
In the last three years there have been discussions with the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and other stakeholders over the possibility of restricting liquor store and pawnshop hours, Henkelman said there were no concerns. The main purpose of approving first reading was to get the information to residents and to request comments from people and businesses in the community, he said. “And that’s exactly what was done.”
Comments from people help councillors decide whether they should approve second reading, make amendments or to defeat the proposal.
Henkelman feels there are safety and financial considerations to the bylaw.
“When we see police costs rising in our community…We’ve had overtime bills of $20,000 for a quarter,” he explained. “So we have to start considering what is the cause.”
Councillors have asked Ponoka RCMP and the protective services committee for some possible solutions to the issues, one of those suggested was to restrict liquor store hours, said Henkelman. The RCMP has told him there are statistics supporting the need for the bylaw.
Sherry Gummow, owner of Busted Ladies Lingerie, asked the mayor how the proposed bylaw protects residents. “There’s two issues in my mind: there’s a social issue, which I agree there is but this is a business issue and I understood it was a business bylaw.”
She wanted to know how the bylaw makes the town safer and Henkelman explained the RCMP would have to provide that information. An informal discussion is scheduled for Jan. 15 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Kinsmen Community Centre where Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm has said he will present his information.
Councillors have received quarterly reports from the RCMP but there have been no direct statistics showing the issues are related to when liquor is sold.
Theresa Turner, owner/operator of Direct Travel, wondered if the proposal targets Hobbema residents.
“We say we don’t want to keep the natives out but really and truly isn’t that who this bylaw is geared to target?” asked Turner. “We say it’s not, but realistically… Where is the issue of safety?”
Henkelman was emphatic the bylaw is not targeted at any specific group of people. “This bylaw does not discuss natives. My council has never ever brought up the term of natives or Indians in our budget or in this bylaw!”
Former town councillor Murray Wedin feels politics and business should be kept separate. “I would be very careful having the politicians decide what the hours are going to be in this town for anything.”
Gummow suggested council should have restricted the number of liquor stores within the community rather than proposing a business hours bylaw after a new store came to town. Henkelman feels decisions like that would be anti-business. “You can’t limit the number of stores coming to town.”
Liquor Store manager Chad Jones wanted councillors to know he believes the issue “has not been identified correctly.” Jones also feels the overtime costs associated to pay for the RCMP are not related to liquor store hours and the issues the City of Wetaskiwin faced are not the same as Ponoka’s.
Chamber treasurer Linda Steinmann feels members need more information from the town before they can either support or oppose the bylaw. “We need to know…why are those overtime hours being looked at? What are the police doing during those overtime hours?”
Steinmann wants to know if the issues police face are directly related to liquor store hours.
Owner/operator of the Leland Hotel, Mark Yaworski, is uncertain if his business, which includes off-sales liquor, will be able to survive under the proposed hours. “If a law like that comes in, the Leland Hotel, after 111 years, will be shutting the doors because we just won’t be making the money.”
No decisions were made at the meeting but Steinmann requested two things from the town: provide the information on how the bylaw affected the RCMP in Wetaskiwin and also to see police statistics for Ponoka related to liquor sales.
Henkelman wanted chamber members to know town councillors support business in the community. “The past council and especially this council is pro business more than any council I have been on.”
Ponoka RCMP and Victims Services advocates will also attend the informal discussion in January.