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County Board: New liquor license fee should pay for DWI court

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news Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Levying a new fee on liquor licenses could help pay for operating DWI courts, Beltrami County commissioners believe.

A resolution in support of legislation to do so was one of several resolutions the County Board approved Tuesday to give direction to local lawmakers.

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Commissioners held a conference call Tuesday afternoon with Sen. Mary Olson and Rep. John Persell, both Bemidji Democrats, with Olson saying that the first legislative deadline is March 12 when a bill must have passed at least one committee to continue on.

Commissioner Jim Heltzer suggested the legislation for adding a fee to liquor licenses to help pay for DWI courts, special courts that provide intense supervision over repeat drunken drivers in a voluntary program.

"The fee would only be levied in counties with DWI courts," Heltzer said.

State funding is precarious and grants are drying up, Heltzer said, spurring him to find some other funding for a program that he says works.

Liquor licenses are regulated by state law, said County Attorney Tim Faver, adding that he believed them to be quite low, at $500 annually.

It may be too late to get a bill through the Legislature, Olson said, but the measure could be amended on the floor to a similar bill.

Persell said there is a bill in the House calling for an alcohol impact fee.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, would create an alcohol health and safety impact fee by charging the fee on beer, wine and spirits with money, in part, going to local governments to cover alcohol-related costs for court services, legal defense, police, fire, corrections, ambulance services, hospital services, coroner and victim assistance.

Commissioners also approved two resolutions asking for lawmaker support on law enforcement issues.

Part of the proposed cuts by Gov. Tim Pawlenty include funding for the corrections program, Sentence to Service, which is a major program in Beltrami County, Sheriff Phil Hodapp told commissioners and the Bemidji lawmakers.

"If it is cut, the impact to us is in two ways," Hodapp said. "First, these people would then be in our jail at a much greater cost, and second, there would the loss ot tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in community service performed by these people."

The loss of STS would cost the county $75 a day for each person who then must complete the sentence in jail rather than performing community service, Hodapp said.

"The governor said he would hold public safety harmless, but here is a corrections program that would be cut," Olson said.

Hodapp also asked help to amend a bill that calls for sales tax exemption for public safety radio communications equipment. The problem, he says, is that the bill applies only to the state-desired system.

The Allied Radio Matrix Emergency Response system is too expensive, say northwest Minnesota counties, which want a cheaper system or to upgrade current equipment, Hodapp said.

The bill should be amended to allow the sales tax exemption on the purchase of equipment for any regional radio communications system, he said.

The cost to Beltrami County to convert to ARMER is $6 million to $9 million, he said, while upgrading current equipment would cost $1.8 million.

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