Newton board cuts liquor license fees in half to aid restaurants amid pandemic

Adella Miesner

At last month’s meeting, Attorney Maura O’Keefe said a fee reduction would be an improper use of license fees, which are supposed to reflect the cost of the city service provided and could violate Massachusetts’ Anti-Aid Amendment. The commissioners didn’t want to approve a measure with legal concerns, but in […]

At last month’s meeting, Attorney Maura O’Keefe said a fee reduction would be an improper use of license fees, which are supposed to reflect the cost of the city service provided and could violate Massachusetts’ Anti-Aid Amendment. The commissioners didn’t want to approve a measure with legal concerns, but in the next meeting on Oct. 6, O’Keefe said the reduction could be justified if it was made for the “public good.”

Richard Heller, senior vice president and general council for Legal Sea Foods, sent a letter to the license commissioners supporting the fee reduction after last month’s meeting. He said the law department’s previous position was “misplaced and not supported by the law.”

The mayor’s office opposed the fee reduction over city budget concerns and had proposed instead to split the fee into two payments. In the end, the commissioners approved both the reduced fee and two installments.

The fee reduction will cost the city $200,000 at a time when officials already have had to reduce the budget by $9.6 million due to the revenue loss from the pandemic, Chief Operating Officer Johnathan Yeo said at the meeting.

“I can’t tell you exactly how we would cut $200,000, but we’d have to from something,” Yeo said. “And it would be real, because at this point, after everything we took out of the budget to get where we are, all that’s left in our budget are real things.”

McCarthy asked the City Council to do whatever it could to prevent any city layoffs or service impacts as a result of the fee reduction.

City Council President Susan Albright, who had first requested the fee reduction, said in the meeting the city stood to lose revenue either way because without aid, more Newton restaurants might decide to close.

“If a portion of our restaurants don’t make it through the winter, this will have a profound effect on other businesses in Newton and our villages themselves,” Albright said.

Seana Gaherin, co-owner of Dunn-Gaherin’s Food & Spirits in Newton, spoke in favor of the fee reductions at the meeting before the vote. She said restaurants have been there for Newton, and right now they need help.

“I’ve been contributing to this city for 30 years, and this is the first time that I am terrified about whether or not I am going to be able to maintain and stay in the game,” Gaherin said. “Believe me, I am going to fight to be there next year to be one of the ones that made it through this.”

Alex LaSalvia can be reached at [email protected]

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