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State House bill would help volunteers get liquor licenses

| Tuesday, June 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

More volunteer fire departments could obtain liquor licenses under a proposal approved on Monday by the state House.

Proponents say the measure could help the departments raise money and stay more in control of events held in their banquet facilities.

The bill by state Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks County, would allow the state Liquor Control Board to award club liquor licenses to volunteer fire departments even if the county has reached its quota for retail liquor licenses. Club liquor licenses allow the holder to sell beer, wine and spirits.

Every county has reached its retail liquor license quota, which is based on population, except for Juniata County, said LCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman.

While the measure could help fire departments raise money, it's also about “being able to regulate activities a little better,” Petri said.

The bill was inspired by a fire department in his district that wanted to control alcohol sales at events in its banquet hall, he said. Because Bucks County had reached its quota, the department was not eligible, he said.

“(The department) has to rely on the caterer or someone who's licensed who comes in,” Petri said. “They're at their mercy as to how activities take place because it's not their license. With their own license, they can police it better, handle it better.”

The bill, approved by the House 165 to 31, now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

It's unclear how many departments in Western Pennsylvania would take the LCB up on the opportunity.

Broughton Volunteer Fire Department President Richard Brunetti said there's never been any discussion about applying for a liquor license for his department, which covers South Park in southern Allegheny County.

If he were to get a license, his busy banquet hall could no longer host fundraisers that build the cost of food and alcohol into the ticket price because that would be considered giving away alcohol. The department could only sell alcohol in that case, he said.

Instead, he's working on a new clause in event rental contracts that requires the individual to hire specially trained bartenders to serve guests.

“Right now ... we're interested in just protecting ourselves, making sure someone is certified in (responsible alcohol) serving,” Brunetti said. “We have a liaison that stays on site for the entire event so the event doesn't get out of hand.”

Collinsburg Volunteer fire Chief Joel Koricich said opening a club could provide another revenue stream when so many revenue streams are drying up for volunteer fire companies.

But his department, which covers part of Rostraver, isn't interested in applying for a liquor license. He said a club requires more personnel and time when companies are already stretched thin.

Plus, Collinsburg makes more money at its Saturday night bingo games than it would renting the hall to a wedding, he said.

“I appreciate the Legislature trying to give us an additional means of fundraising,” Koricich said. “There certainly has to be a tremendous amount of thought and effort to starting up a club.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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