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Closing time at Spicer bars might change due to influx in incidents

SPICER -- The Spicer City Council is considering rolling back closing time at local bars. Bars in Spicer can be open and serve alcohol until 2 a.m. because the city does not have an ordinance requiring an earlier closing time. Two bars in Spicer ...

SPICER -- The Spicer City Council is considering rolling back closing time at local bars.

Bars in Spicer can be open and serve alcohol until 2 a.m. because the city does not have an ordinance requiring an earlier closing time. Two bars in Spicer -- O'Neil's and Melvin's on the Lake -- have permits to stay open until 2 a.m.

Since the change about two years ago, the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Department has seen an increase in alcohol-related incidents, such as fights, disorderly conduct and driving while impaired, according to numbers compiled by the department.

"It looks like everything went up significantly in all areas after we went to two o'clock," Mayor Bill Taylor said.

Sheriff Dan Hartog and Deputy Shannon O'Donnell presented their findings Wednesday to the Spicer City Council.

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In separate interviews, both bar operators said they were open to changing the closing time.

Melvin's owner Dave Baker said he doesn't plan to renew his 2 a.m. license when it expires Aug. 1.

Michelle Kastel, manager at O'Neil's, said the later closing time hasn't made a big difference in business and said she wouldn't object if the closing time was 1 a.m. again.

The bars started closing at 2 a.m. in the second half of 2004. The Sheriff's Department compared the calls for service from 2002 to June 30, 2006, in six areas: assaults, disorderly conduct, drunkenness other than detox, fights, liquor violations and persons to detox.

From 2002 to 2004, the department received five to seven calls a year to fights in Spicer. But in 2005, the calls to fights increased to 19.

Ten of those reported fights occurred between midnight and 4 a.m. at either O'Neil's or Melvin's, according to the Sheriff's Department.

So far this year, there have been calls to 12 fights, with six of those happening at Melvin's between midnight and 4 a.m. Two of those reported fights happened at O'Neil's and the American Legion between those hours. The Legion does not stay open until 2 a.m.

Driving while impaired arrests within the city limits have increased from eight in 2002 to 30 in 2005, according to the department. The new blood alcohol limit of 0.08 may contribute to the increase, Hartog said.

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People from Willmar have been driving up to Spicer to get in another half-hour or 45 minutes of drinking as well, O'Donnell said.

The city of Spicer contracts the Sheriff's Department for 30 hours of service a week, but the department puts in two to three times that. The city does not pay extra for the additional hours.

"We spend significantly more time because of the two o'clock bar closing," Hartog said.

O'Donnell said there are usually three deputies on duty weekend nights. She said she parks outside Melvin's around closing time to ward off fights or drunk driving. It helps, but she said some people still fight despite her presence.

Councilman Terry Holmquist asked if people are being served when they shouldn't be.

O'Donnell said the bartenders go through training, but said it can be difficult to determine how intoxicated someone is when the bar is busy.

Hartog said the state put the 2 a.m. close in place in 2003 to increase funding for the state patrol. But the patrol doesn't deal with alcohol-related calls, like fights or disorderly conduct, he said.

"It's another case where the burden gets shifted to the locals," he said.

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Councilman Ron Schneider said eventually there could be a death because of a fight.

"Do we need more evidence than what we're getting here to come up with an ordinance to restrict the sale of alcohol until 1 a.m.?" he asked.

The council decided to look into an ordinance with a 1 a.m. closing time and to talk to the bar owners about their concerns.

Baker said he had applied for the later closing time to increase profits and it has. But sticking with the 2 a.m. close is not the right thing for the community or fair to law enforcement, he said.

"It's more responsible to give up profits than it is safety," he said.

Kastel said the only noticeable change at O'Neil's has been a rush after 1 a.m. from people coming up from Willmar, where closing time is 1 a.m. She wouldn't be against a change.

"If it helps law enforcement, then it would be a positive thing," Kastel said.

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