ELIZABETHTOWN - The Essex County Board of Supervisors may move the mandatory closing time for all bars countywide from 4 a.m. to 2, but the public will have plenty of time to provide feedback before a decision is made.
On Monday, county lawmakers postponed a resolution that would force bars to close two hours earlier. It was introduced by Chesterfield town Supervisor Gerald Morrow, who later moved to table the measure until next month's Public Safety Committee meeting.
"Nothing good happens between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., I've been told," Morrow told the News. "I'm assuming everybody can get all they want to drink before 2 o'clock in the morning."
Morrow said he first raised the issue to supervisors in February. He said he supplied his colleagues with statistics about drunken driving incidents and other alcohol-related crimes, including the times when they occur. He also asked supervisors to discuss the proposal with constituents, especially bar owners.
The idea came after Morrow attended a meeting with Mac MacDevitt, a community-based prevention coordinator for the Substance Abuse Prevention Team of Essex County. During that meeting, officials discussed a 2006 decision by the Board of Supervisors to extend bar hours to 4 a.m. MacDevitt said there wasn't any public input when the change was made.
MacDevitt said Morrow has since taken up the effort to move up the countywide closing time.
Most decisions about the sale and purchase of alcohol are made at the state level, MacDevitt explained. Counties, however, are allowed to set their own limits on how long bars may stay open.
According to data compiled by MacDevitt, closing hours vary widely across the state. Outside of New York City, 11 counties have 1 a.m. closing times, 22 are at 2 a.m, three are at 3 a.m., and 21 are at 4 a.m.
Franklin County's closing time is 3 a.m. For Clinton and Hamilton counties, it's 2 a.m. To the south, Warren and Washington counties have a 4 a.m. closing time. MacDevitt noted that Vermont bars close at 2 a.m.
"We're out of sync with the counties that we're most connected with," he said.
"This is one area where counties and local governments can have some influence on the sale and service of alcohol," MacDevitt added. "The Centers for Disease Control is really clear now that alcohol is a very serious public health and public safety problem. And binge drinking is a big problem in this country."
MacDevitt acknowledged that changing bar hours is a tough sell.
"But the reality is that over-consumption of alcohol has a big impact, and it has a public safety impact in terms of violence, (driving while intoxicated arrests), crashes, as well as the public health impact," he said.
MacDevitt pointed to a recent study by the Marin Institute that shows later "last calls" lead to more alcohol-related problems. Later hours of sale lead to more drunken driving incidents and more alcohol-related illness and death, according to the study.
Essex County law enforcement officials are backing Morrow's proposal. Sheriff Richard Cutting said, to his knowledge, very few bars stay open past 2 a.m. anyway.
"There was a few that objected because they don't want to be locked in (to the time change)," Cutting said. "They would like to be able to stay open until 4 even though they don't.
"My thought is we should have some conformity here. ... If we stay at 4, and bars are open until 4, are we not encouraging people to come here when their own bars close, and drive here in an intoxicated manner?"
In Lake Placid, where there's more night life than most communities due to brisk tourism, at least three establishments would be affected by the change: Wiseguys Sports Bar & Grill, Roomers Nightclub and Zig Zags Pub. Village police Chief Bill Moore said he supports an earlier closing time.
"I think that it will cut down on some of the crime that we have late at night," he said. "Some of the busier weekends, it'll make a huge difference in the policing here. I think people, instead of going out at 11 o'clock, I think they'll just start going out at 9 o'clock. That will be easier for our people to police it.
"There's still going to be problems, quite obviously, but I think they're going to be a little less. That's my opinion."
North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi will represent Lake Placid when the board eventually votes on the proposal. He told the News that he has sought direction from the village Board of Trustees, since the bars that would be affected by the change are in the village.
"The preliminary indication that I got was everybody thought it was a good idea," Politi said. "I talked to one bar owner who thought it was a great idea. ... I guess most everybody indicated that nothing good happens between 2 and 4 o'clock in the morning."
Village Mayor Craig Randall said he asked trustees to consider the proposal. He said he thinks the board will back it. The mayor noted that one board member wanted to see more public discussion before a decision is made.
The News reached out to several bar owners in Lake Placid but only heard back from one as of Tuesday night. Chris Ericson, owner of the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, said his establishment already closes at 2 a.m., so the change wouldn't affect him.
"We used to open until 3," he said. "But we didn't see much volume of business, so we decided we would close at 2, and that's worked well for us. So tangibly, it would have no affect whatsoever on me."
But Ericson did say he has a problem with "people trying to legislate" hours for businesses.
"I'm guessing the philosophy is, 'Get people off the roads so they're not intoxicated late at night,'" he said. "Enforcing drunk driving laws is not a time-related issue, it's a responsibility issue. I just don't know how comfortable I would be with people trying to legislate responsibility. To me, it's important that people are responsible at all times of the day."
Ericson noted that some service workers, like wait staff and hotel workers, don't get off of work until late at night, so moving up the closing time could prevent them from enjoying a beverage after their shift.
The Public Safety Committee will discuss the resolution at its April 8 meeting.