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Bar Owners Evading Licensing Laws, Consumer Officials Say

April 29, 2008 — Loopholes in licensing laws have enabled business owners to skirt restrictions barring the establishment of new bars and taverns in the territory's historical districts, Licensing and Consumer Affairs officials told senators Tuesday.
In 2006, senators passed a bill placing a five-year moratorium on the issuance of tavern keepers' licenses within Frederiksted and Christiansted on St. Croix, and the Savan area on St. Thomas. To get around the freeze, business owners are now applying for restaurant licenses, but are setting up bars instead, said DLCA Commissioner Kenrick Robertson during Tuesday's Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee meeting.
While Robertson said he didn't have the authority close down local businesses, senators pointed out that DLCA does have the power to revoke business licenses. Once it has been determined that the business "does not have a restaurant area," DLCA can choose to revoke the license and shut the illegal business down, senators said.
DLCA has not revoked any local business licenses within the past year, Robertson noted.
"I don't understand," responded Senate President Usie R. Richards. "An inspector can sit down at their desk in one day and find out whether a business has a restaurant or not, or whether they are in compliance with the licensing laws. You're saying that's not being done?"
"No," Robertson said. He added that DLCA currently has four enforcement officers on St. Thomas, none on St. John and one on St. Croix.
Senators' concerns peaked again when Robertson said DLCA has not been regulating the gross profit margins of gasoline wholesalers and retailers doing business in the territory. The issue came under debate two years ago, when senators appropriated money to DLCA to conduct a gasoline study, and ultimately made its way to District Court. Though the study has been complete, and the case settled, more up-to-date figures on the local price of gasoline are needed, Robertson said.
Getting back to the topic of Tuesday's meeting — status updates on DLCA and Motor Vehicle Bureau (BMV) operations — Robertson said he is currently working on stabilizing local food costs.
"The current sample of food items in our food basket survey is over 17 years old and needs to be updated," he said. "A new sample of food items are being compiled which would be representative of frequently used food staples. Due to the high cost of printing and publishing these surveys, they are not published as often as they should be. However, we are exploring other means of disseminating the information to the public …."
Senators had fewer concerns for BMV Director Jerris Browne, who said the agency is still finalizing its transition from the V.I. Police Department; working on meeting the mandates of the federal Help America Vote and Real ID acts; and staking out "adequate" facilities on all three islands. (See "Bureau of Motor Vehicles Budget Up $1.23 million for 2008")
The main issue, however, was whether BMV was taking a tighter hold on the regulation of illegal taxi licenses and medallions, which had been popping up despite the fact that a freeze on the issuance of new taxi medallions has been in place since May 2006. (See "Taxicabs and Ferries: Transportation Issues Dominate Marathon Senate Committee Meeting.")
Information gathered during a recent investigation has been forwarded to the Attorney General's office, Browne said.
"We sent the information to the Attorney General for guidance and input," he added. "We were told that we should not do anything to create a problem with the overall investigation that they are doing."
Efforts are currently underway to promulgate rules and regulations for the issuance of taxi licenses, along with training measures for BMV assigned to conduct annual taxi inspections, Browne said.
Present during Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis P. Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrance "Positive" Nelson, Richards, Carmen M. Wesselhoft, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams.
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April 29, 2008 -- Loopholes in licensing laws have enabled business owners to skirt restrictions barring the establishment of new bars and taverns in the territory's historical districts, Licensing and Consumer Affairs officials told senators Tuesday.
In 2006, senators passed a bill placing a five-year moratorium on the issuance of tavern keepers' licenses within Frederiksted and Christiansted on St. Croix, and the Savan area on St. Thomas. To get around the freeze, business owners are now applying for restaurant licenses, but are setting up bars instead, said DLCA Commissioner Kenrick Robertson during Tuesday's Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee meeting.
While Robertson said he didn't have the authority close down local businesses, senators pointed out that DLCA does have the power to revoke business licenses. Once it has been determined that the business "does not have a restaurant area," DLCA can choose to revoke the license and shut the illegal business down, senators said.
DLCA has not revoked any local business licenses within the past year, Robertson noted.
"I don't understand," responded Senate President Usie R. Richards. "An inspector can sit down at their desk in one day and find out whether a business has a restaurant or not, or whether they are in compliance with the licensing laws. You're saying that's not being done?"
"No," Robertson said. He added that DLCA currently has four enforcement officers on St. Thomas, none on St. John and one on St. Croix.
Senators' concerns peaked again when Robertson said DLCA has not been regulating the gross profit margins of gasoline wholesalers and retailers doing business in the territory. The issue came under debate two years ago, when senators appropriated money to DLCA to conduct a gasoline study, and ultimately made its way to District Court. Though the study has been complete, and the case settled, more up-to-date figures on the local price of gasoline are needed, Robertson said.
Getting back to the topic of Tuesday's meeting -- status updates on DLCA and Motor Vehicle Bureau (BMV) operations -- Robertson said he is currently working on stabilizing local food costs.
"The current sample of food items in our food basket survey is over 17 years old and needs to be updated," he said. "A new sample of food items are being compiled which would be representative of frequently used food staples. Due to the high cost of printing and publishing these surveys, they are not published as often as they should be. However, we are exploring other means of disseminating the information to the public ...."
Senators had fewer concerns for BMV Director Jerris Browne, who said the agency is still finalizing its transition from the V.I. Police Department; working on meeting the mandates of the federal Help America Vote and Real ID acts; and staking out "adequate" facilities on all three islands. (See "Bureau of Motor Vehicles Budget Up $1.23 million for 2008")
The main issue, however, was whether BMV was taking a tighter hold on the regulation of illegal taxi licenses and medallions, which had been popping up despite the fact that a freeze on the issuance of new taxi medallions has been in place since May 2006. (See "Taxicabs and Ferries: Transportation Issues Dominate Marathon Senate Committee Meeting.")
Information gathered during a recent investigation has been forwarded to the Attorney General's office, Browne said.
"We sent the information to the Attorney General for guidance and input," he added. "We were told that we should not do anything to create a problem with the overall investigation that they are doing."
Efforts are currently underway to promulgate rules and regulations for the issuance of taxi licenses, along with training measures for BMV assigned to conduct annual taxi inspections, Browne said.
Present during Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Louis P. Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrance "Positive" Nelson, Richards, Carmen M. Wesselhoft, Celestino A. White Sr. and Alvin L. Williams.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.