County reconsiders alcohol use rules

OKEECHOBEE — The legalities of allowing alcohol to be served at events on county property complicated a discussion of use fees for facilities at the Nov. 30 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission.

As part of an ongoing discussion, commissioners considered fees for the use of county property for special events. The areas that are available for special events are Clif Betts, Jr. Lakeside Recreation Area (Lock 7), Sports Complex, Practice Area, OK Softball Complex, Kiwanis Park, C. Scott Driver and Willie Alderman Field.

County administrator Robbie Chartier questioned provisions for serving alcohol at public events.

The proposed policy would require the sponsor of such events to have a liquor license and to carry liquor liability insurance.

“If someone is going to sell liquor, they need to have a license, and they need to have a liquor liability insurance,” said the administrator. “If they are not selling alcohol, but it is part of the event, shouldn’t they have a liability policy?”

She said the county could be held liable if alcohol is served at a county facility, and someone who has been drinking is later involved in an accident.

Currently, most county facilities prohibit alcohol, but that doesn’t stop people from sneaking it in to private events, she said.

Commission Chair Terry Burroughs said this is an ongoing problem.

“I had a situation where they were serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on a Sunday,” he said.

“Regulations right now say it is not allowed, but that does not keep them from doing it,” said Mrs. Chartier. “They are telling us when they sign the document that they understand no alcohol is to be served, but they are still consuming it on our property.”

She said even if the host does not serve alcohol, guests may bring it in.

“Grandma may have a bottle in her purse, and sneak some into a cup,” she said.

County attorney John Cassels said the county should determine on which facilities alcohol consumption will be allowed, which sometimes allowed, and which facilities it is never allowed. Facilities where the consumption of alcohol is banned should have signs to that effect, he said.

The policy needs to make sense, he said. “Are you going to say that at a wedding reception they can’t toast the bride with anything but apple juice?”

“If we have a policy that says ‘no alcohol’ and it’s not being enforced, that needs to be addressed,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens.

Serving alcohol and selling it are treated differently, she said.

“A lot of these nonprofits, whatever event it is, they will have beer. They need to have a license,” said Chairman Burroughs.

“The grandmother with a flask in her pocket probably can’t be stopped,” he added.

County Parks and Recreation Director Albie Scoggins said the areas where alcohol will be sold, served or consumed should be designated.

He said they could look at ways other counties handle the issue. For example, Port St. Lucie requires the renter to purchase alcohol liability insurance that is an appropriate cost to their event based on the number of attendees. Some counties that are self-insured just charge a permit fee. If they are going to serve alcohol, they pay an additional fee which the county collects

“I want to have us covered if they are serving beer or alcohol,” said Chairman Burroughs.

“All it takes is one time for something to happen. We need to be covered.”

Mr. Scoggins said the county has allowed alcohol to be served at some events on county property, such as beer at bass tournaments, on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Cassels said he will work with Mr. Scoggins to come up with a proposal. He said the charge would have to be enough for the county to acquire liability insurance to cover the event. The county does not monitor what goes on at private events, he explained.

“We give you a key on Friday and you do what you do on Saturday,” he said.

He said they require a deposit to ensure the renter will leave the facility the way they found it with the rooms cleaned, tables put away, chairs stacked, etc.

Chairman Burroughs suggested the contract include a per-hour cleaning fee if the facility is left in a mess.

“My concern is how long is it going to take the county to clean it up if they trash the place,” he said.

“We set a reasonable fee to get the facility back into condition,” said Mr. Scoggins. “There are times when the deposit will not cover cost of damages and we will have to bill the renter for that cost

“If party ends at 11:30 p.m. and the place is a mess, and you only have $100 you stand to lose, most people are going to walk away from that,” he said. “The $250 deposit is enough to motivate most people to make sure it is clean.”

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper questioned the charges.

“If we get so finite on all of these charges, you are going to make it too expensive for people to use the facilities,” he said.

“I can understand if they do damage, but I believe we have insurance on that. If we can’t allow the facilities to be used at a cost-effective rate, we might as well close them,” he said.

“This is about being responsible for using someone else’s property,” said Chairman Burroughs. “It is not right for us to have to go and use taxpayers’ money to clean it up when people are irresponsible.

“If they leave it the way they got it, they are not going to be charged for it,” he said.

Commissioner Culpepper gave example of someone renting the Basinger Civic Center, and finding the dumpster is already full. He said they left garbage bags next to the dumpster, and during the night animals tore up the bags. He asked if the renter should be liable for that clean up.

“The basic rule is leave it the way you found it. If there is no room in the dumpster, you take it somewhere else,” said Commissioner Goodbread.

“The way to solve that is to put a lock on the dumpster,” said Chairman Burroughs. “When you get the key to the facility, you get the key to the dumpster.”

Mr. Scoggins said they have put a lock on the dumpster at the Basinger Civic Center. “We have solved the problem for our renters who showed up for an event and had no place to put the garbage because the dumpster was full,” he said.

Mr. Scoggins will make the changes requested and bring the matter to the board back at a future meeting.

At the start of the meeting, the board conducted their annual reorganization Terry Burroughs was elected chair; David Hazellief, first vice-chair; and Bryant Culpepper, second vice-chair. The board agreed to keep the meeting schedule to second and fourth Thursdays of each month at 9 a.m. in the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse.

Due to the holidays, the December meetings will be on Dec. 12 and Dec. 28. The January meetings will be on Jan 11 . and Jan. 25.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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