RANTOUL — Three restaurant/bar operators are not pleased with the village’s plan to raise rates for liquor and gaming licenses.
Village officials said the raises were necessary to meet the increased costs incurred by the village.
Annual gaming terminal fees would climb from $50 to $100 per machine, except for clubs, which would remain at $50.
Liquor license fees would climb by $100 for bars (to $2,200), restaurants ($1,650), package alcohol businesses ($2,200), golf courses ($2,200) and beer and wine sales ($1,650). The club fee would increase by $50 to $1,100.
The liquor license committee also recommended to begin charging companies that furnish gaming terminals to local businesses $1,000 per machine.
The liquor license/gaming fees were last reviewed in 2018 for the 2018-19 year.
Steve Kaufman, owner of Bud’s Bar, 122 N. Kentucky Ave.; Jamie Eaker, owner of Rantoul Pub, 114 E. Congress Ave., and Shooter’s Bar and Grill, 215 S. Tanner St.; and Kevin Applebee, owner of The 19th Hole Bar and Grill at Willow Pond Golf Course, 808 Golf Course Road, say the market doesn’t allow them to charge as much for alcohol as their Champaign-Urbana counterparts.
Kaufman said he had a meeting with Mayor Chuck Smith and was told liquor license fees would not be increasing.
“Then I get a letter saying they would be going up,” Kaufman said.
Smith told the Press the conversation happened in 2018, and he would not make such a promise.
Smith said he was “very disappointed that (Kaufman) would make a statement like that in an effort to strengthen his argument to the village board.”
Kaufman said the same day after their meeting, a Rantoul police detective, working with the state of Illinois, came to his business to do an inspection. He said he was not pleased.
“I would like to know where the village gets their information regarding our liquor license being $2,200,” Kaufman said. “According to our beer distributor, we are the highest in the area by far. Where does that come from?”
He said local and area bar owners “are stuck buying our alcohol from the same distributors as Champaign-Urbana. Our beer off the truck is $3 more expensive than Watseka, Gilman and other distributors. I would like to know where the breakdown of the $2,200 (fee) comes from.”
Eaker called it “ridiculous” the amount of money local bar owners have to pay for liquor licenses.
“Our fees are all quadruple the price of other places,” she said, adding she used to own a bar in Rankin, where the liquor fee was less than $500.
“We don’t stay open as late as they do in Champaign-Urbana. We don’t have the restaurants that stay open past 11 or 12 around here. We can’t compete with people who want to go to Champaign-Urbana to drink or do whatever. Nor do we want to bring people from Champaign-Urbana here that live in that area because then they have to drive back when they’re drinking. I want to keep prices at a normal level for our community. We can’t do that if every year you increase the prices.”
Eaker said the per-terminal gaming fee would increase to $100 while the state also charges $100. She said she is hit twice because she owns two bars.
Eaker said she doesn’t see much support from the village.
“That concerns me a lot for somebody that owns a business like I have. My family’s owned businesses for 30-40 years in this town.”
Eaker said she asked if she could be a member of the liquor advisory committee but was told that is a conflict of interest. She said she is unaware when the committee meets and has never been notified of meetings.
Smith said all of the meetings are open to the public and are posted in the Rantoul Press and on the village website.
Applebee said no one minds paying taxes, but, “It’s just the fact some people aren’t aware of that the industry I’m in, there’s nobody making money.”
He said an extra $350 a year might not seem like much, “but that’s an extra $350 I’ve got to write out of my own checkbook.”
He said he gets tired of being “nickel-and-dimed” and noted the minimum wage rate just increased. He pointed out that last week it was announced two area golf courses would be closing.
“It’s the businesses that pay taxes that support the village of Rantoul,” Applebee said. “There’s only so many businesses here. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the support you guys have given me through the years.”
Applebee said it was “almost petty” when license fees were raised last year.
“You brought in maybe $3,500. The ill will you guys don’t even realize you got out of that $3,500, why would you even do it? But then again I think like a businessman. I don’t think like government. That’s why I don’t get along with government that well. And here we go again. It’s doubling.”
Applebee said he has heard comments that businesses that house gaming machines are making big money.
“There are two companies that are making big money on gaming machines,” he said. “They’re not in this room. They’re not local people.”
Applebee said he brought in $41,000 last year on gaming. His property taxes are $33,000, plus he has to pay more than $7,000 in a storm drainage fee, and the liquor license fee increases his costs to more than $42,000 a year.
Smith said the liquor committee had recommended the gaming and terminal fees be increased from $50 to $100 for all license holders other than clubs and a 5 percent increase in all liquor license fees.
Trustee Hank Gamel said looking at the proposed increases, the cost would be $100 for “a full-service bar” and $50 for a restaurant, “so it doesn’t seem as egregious as it sounds.”
Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer provided the Press with fees charged by other area communities as of 2019.
Champaign charges $2,400 for all categories other than temporary, including bar, restaurant, package alcohol, club, golf course and hotel. Urbana’s rates are much higher at $5,329 for bar, $3,958 for restaurant, $5,198 for package beer and wine, $3,112 for club, $5,496 for golf course and $1,429 for hotel. Mahomet, Savoy, St. Joseph and Gifford are lower than Rantoul’s, ranging from a high of $2,000 for a bar license in Mahomet to $450 in Gifford. The bar license is the only liquor fee category in Gifford.
“What are we doing with this money?” Trustee Gary Wilson said. “It’s a lot of money. Seems like we’re going to upset some people for a couple thousand dollars.”
Comptroller Pat Chamberlin said the license fees go into the general fund to pay for costs associated with the police department, community development and planning.
Eisenhauer said the fees are designed for the administration of the liquor license and law enforcement.
“As for the permit fee increase, we recognize that frankly to raise $50 we’re not gaining nearly as much as the headache it might create,” Eisenhauer said. “This is designed to come close to covering the cost of the fee application process itself.”
He said it takes the deputy clerk two to three hours a year to address each machine for video gaming in terms of the application process and followup with the state of Illinois. He said administration costs have gone up for the village clerk and the police department.
Deputy Village Clerk Janet Gray said another department is also involved — building safety.
“They have to enforce annually to make sure everything is in place. That might take more than one visit,” she said.
Wilson asked what the ramifications would be if the rate adjustments were delayed “until we had more revenue with the proposed building (of the sports complex) and people coming into the village.”
Eisenhauer said the village would be “dealing with these particular issues at a loss.”
Kaufman said Rantoul liquor establishments can’t charge as much as those in Champaign-Urbana, which charge $3.25 to $3.50 for a beer. He said in Rantoul the cost is $2.50.
“That is our problem,” Kaufman said. “We are buying off Champaign-Urbana distributors, so our cost is higher. ...”
As for gaming terminals, Trustee Sherry Johnson suggested raising terminal fees by $25 rather than $50.
Rantoul police Lt. Justin Bouse said the state of Illinois started using police officers to do liquor inspections. One inspection has been done each of the last three years.
Bouse said the village was reimbursed $75 by the state. He said generally police would call the business ahead of time to set up the inspection. The state discontinued using local officers this year, he said.