Proposed changes to Alna’s rules for alcohol sales received almost no comment from the audience during a public hearing the evening of Monday, March 12, with many in the audience saving their comments for a second hearing on amendments to the town’s school choice policy.
Jon Villeneuve and Alna General Store co-owner Ken Solorzano gave a brief explanation of their petition proposing changes to the town’s liquor rules.
In the 1830s, Villeneuve said, Maine allowed towns to enact their own rules regarding alcohol sales. Villeneuve, who plans to open a hard cider business on his property on South Old Sheepscot Road, became aware of this when local brewers told him he wouldn’t be able to operate in Alna because it was a dry town.
“This is only partially true,” Villeneuve said. State records indicate that establishments in Alna are granted liquor licenses on the condition that alcohol purchased must be consumed off-premise. Villeneuve said he was unable to find a record of Alna’s vote on the issue.
Villeneuve spoke to Solorzano, who expressed interest in having beer and wine available for purchase with meals at the store he co-owns with his wife, Jane Solorzano.
Due to the type of license Solorzano would pursue, there would be a limit to how much a person could consume at the store. “It wouldn’t be like a pub; you can’t just sit down and consume,” Solorzano said. “That can’t happen, and that will not happen.”
Ruth Jones expressed favor for the idea of the Alna General Store obtaining a liquor license and said it would be a “great addition” to the Solorzanos’ establishment.
“I think people would enjoy being able to get a cold brew with their meal if that’s what they want,” Jones said.
Another resident asked the Alna Board of Selectmen if there would be any limits placed on the number of liquor licenses available in the town.
Third Selectman Doug Baston said the selectmen “would decide down the road.”
Residents will be asked to vote on two questions related to changing Alna’s alcohol sales practices due to the “very prescriptive” wording required by the state, Villeneuve said.
The first question asks if Alna will authorize the state to issue licenses for the sale of liquor to be consumed on the premises of licensed establishments on days other than Sunday.
The second question asks for the authorization to grant licenses for the sale and on-premise consumption of liquor at licensed establishments on Sundays.
Voters will have the final say on the issue at the polls on Friday, March 23, the same day the town will decide whether to change its school choice policy.
Resident Ralph Hilton submitted a petition for the school choice referendum, which would modify Alna policy to restrict the town’s commitment to pay for school tuition, up to a certain amount, to only public schools.
The town would continue to pay tuition for high school students attending either public or private school. The change, if approved by voters, would go into effect June 30.
Children who live in Alna as of June 30 would not be affected by the change, according to the referendum. RSU 12 has indicated that it will seek a legal opinion on that part of the referendum.
Residents who did not have a chance to speak at the March 5 public hearing were able to voice their opinions on the petition during the March 12 hearing.
As he did at the previous hearing, resident Ed Pentaleri presented his analysis regarding whether the town’s policy has negatively impacted property taxes.
Several members of the audience, who at the first meeting spoke against the referendum question, again questioned Pentaleri about the data he used to make his conclusions, leading to an hour of discussion before moderator Carl Pease opened the floor for comments regarding the question itself.
Similar to the first hearing, many of the speakers against the referendum question identified themselves as parents of children who attend private schools and expressed concern for future parents who would not have the same choice about where to send their children for school.
“If you want to send your kid to private school, if that’s what’s best for you, do it, but pay for it,” said Chris Cooper, who spoke in favor of changing the policy.
Others questioned why the town is quickly moving forward with a referendum vote instead of putting together a committee and researching all of its options, like the town did when considering changes to the Head Tide Dam.
If voters approve the referendum question, the change wouldn’t take effect for quite some time, Hilton said, as any child living in Alna before June 30 would not be impacted.
Hilton said that despite the two hearings, he doesn’t believe anyone in the audience has changed their stance.
“With all the conversation, I don’t think anyone’s changed their mind, so I’ll leave you with that,” Hilton said.
Recognizing he might be stepping outside his role as moderator, Pease provided his opinion on the hearings at the conclusion of Monday’s hearing.
“I’ve listened to everyone here, and through all the anger, the emotion, the comments, everyone involved in this discussion is trying to make the decision based on what is best for Alna,” Pease said. “Even the people you disagree with are coming from a good place, a place that says, ‘I think this is what is best for Alna.’”