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Borough Business Owners Contest Liquor Renewal Fees

Candace Braun

Owners of downtown businesses spoke out at a Borough Council meeting last week, opposing the Borough's plan to raise liquor license renewal fees. The Borough is looking to raise the annual fee $400 in 2005, and an additional $100 in 2006, bringing the annual fee up to $2,500.

The Borough is considering this change as a way to increase revenue, as taxpayers are facing a five-cent tax increase per $100 of assessed property value in 2005, after an increase of 12 cents in 2004.

In total there are 12 consumption and six retail liquor licenses in the Borough. The increase would bring Borough liquor license fees up to the maximum allowed by the state, a measure that West Windsor also took last year.

Some Borough merchants feared they would have to lay off part-time employees to offset this new cost.

"It's one of many fees that have been raised for us over the years, at both the state and local level," said Tom Schmierer, the 29-year owner of the Alchemist & Barrister.

He added that other factors may soon affect businesses in town, including the state's proposed Smoke Free Air Act, which would ban smoking in public facilities such as bars and restaurants.

"I understand that money is needed, but there must be other ways to raise money that don't directly affect local businesses," said Mr. Schmierer.

Borough merchants also spoke out against an ordinance introduced by the Borough last year that would increase the number of hours residents would have to pay to park their cars in metered spots on the street. At that time Council agreed not to move forward with the measure, as merchants were dealing with construction downtown, which they said was affecting their business.

However, Council argued against merchant complaints last week, citing that liquor licensing renewal fees in the Borough have been at a standstill since 1982. It introduced the ordinance at a vote of 5 to 0. Councilwoman Wendy Benchley was absent.

Borough Council introduced its $21.9 million budget for public hearing at a meeting earlier this month. Council is expected to vote on the budget in May.

In other news, Council approved $1.7 million for roadwork improvements last week on roads in the Borough, including Washington Road, Patton Avenue, Moran Avenue, and Hibben Road. Council also approved $481,000 for sidewalk replacement and improvements in those same locations. A public hearing is scheduled for Council's May 3 session.

All of these projects are scheduled to be worked on this year, said Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi, adding that the Borough is expecting to receive bids within the next few weeks.

Due to the size and scope of what needs to be done, improvements on Mercer Street will be put on hold until it is the only scheduled project, said Mr. Bruschi.

Work on Alexander Road, Murray Place, and Pine Street that began in 2004, is now finishing up, he added.

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