The community has restricted alcohol sales for more than 100 years. The entirety of city policy regarding alcohol sales is: “It shall be unlawful for any person to sell alcoholic beverages within the city.”
In contrast, the liquor control policy in Monticello covers ten pages.
Council members were hesitant to make the decision and instead expressed a desire to let city residents be heard.
Councilman Joe B Lyman mentioned that he would like to see a community-wide referendum vote if the policy were to change.
“Five people shouldn’t make this decision,” said Lyman. “The whole community should be involved in this decision.”
City Manager Jeremy Redd explained that a change could be made in three ways.
1) The council could draft an ordinance, hold a public hearing, and then vote on the issue.
2) The council can decide by majority vote to put it on the ballot as a referendum.
3) A citizen petition could request a ballot referendum.
For the issue to be on the 2013 city ballots, the council action or petition would need to be submitted by April 10.
A petition would require the signatures of registered voters equal to ten percent of the number who voted in the last general election. In 2012, approximately 1,600 votes were cast in the Blanding precincts, which include areas outside of city limits.
Councilman Robert Ogle brought up the topic, stating that he had been approached by a number of city residents who were interested in changing the policy.
Ogle mentioned that the discussion may be merited by two factors. The first is the basic philosophy of American liberty. He asked, “Is this a failed attempt to legislate morality?”
The second factor discussed by Ogle is related to economic development. He said, “We often hear about the need for a detailed and specific plan for economic development and tourism is often mentioned. I wonder if the prohibition of alcohol may retard this growth.”
He added later, “Do we provide the services that our visitors deem essential?”
Two Blanding residents who own tourist properties spoke in favor of allowing the sale of beer and wine.
Craig Simpson owns properties in Blanding and Bluff. He mentioned that beer sales at his property in Bluff account for about two percent of sales.
However, he mentioned that the availability of the beverages is important to about one third of customers.
“A tremendous number of Europeans come through our doors and for many of them, having a beer or wine with their meal is part of their life,” said Simpson.
He suggested that allowing for the sale of beer and wine in restaurants would have a “significant impact” on business.
Bill Haven said that beer and wine sales would make a difference for visitors to Blanding. He said he is not interested in saloons and bars and added that no one has even suggested a liquor store in town.
However, Haven said that if restaurants have the ability to serve beer and wine it would level the playing field for Blanding-area businesses.
Councilman Charlie Taylor said, “I have a personal opinion, but I think it is something worthwhile to explore and see what the community wants to do. The community should be able to speak about what they want to have happen.”
“Well, we will know when the paper comes out,” said Lyman. “We may get 1,000 phone calls.”
The council acknowledged the difficulty of securing enough names on a petition by April 10 so it may be a council vote that calls for a referendum.
In other matters at the March 12 meeting, the council discussed the possibility assumption of ownership of land near the old swinging bridge.
A coalition including the City, Utah State University, San Juan Heritage Council and the BLM would be needed to pull together a project at the site, which has more than 50 archaeological sites.
The San Juan Education Foundation currently owns the property. Cleal Bradford, of the Foundation, said that the city may be able to develop the site as a tourist stop and archaeological center.
Guy Denton, of Utah State University, explained that USU is interested in partnering with the groups. However, he added that the development of an archaeological program at the Blanding campus would take time and effort to accomplish.
Several council members expressed concern about the liability and cost that could accompany the project. Mayor Toni Turk said, “If the university is not a major player in this, then the conversation is finished.”
The council also discussed unregistered vehicles parked on city streets and a project by the Dedicated Hunters program to clean up the city shooting range.