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Hill County is eligible for three more liquor licenses


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The number of bars in Hill County may increase, although the owners of some taverns in the county don't think that's a good idea.

"I think we have plenty of them right now," said Shirley Kline, owner of the Bank Bar in Rudyard.

The Department of Revenue will allow three existing all-alcohol beverage licenses to be floated into the county, excluding Havre and Hingham and areas within five miles of each incorporated town.

Kline said the last census showed the population of the county has dropped.

"So how can they figure more bars will help the population?" she asked.

The 1991 census reported a population of 17,654 in Hill County. The 2001 census estimated a county population of 16,673.

Neil Peterson of the Department of Revenue said the offer is being made due to population changes in the entire state, rather than in Hill County.

"Hill County hasn't been singled out for this offer," he said. "We routinely update the quota sheet after we get the updated population notices."

The quota system, put in place in the 1940s, determines how many licenses are available in a county or incorporated town based on population, Peterson said. Since existing licenses were grandfathered in, some areas started out over the quota.

As populations decline, some locations end up having more licenses than their quotas allow. The department "floats" the licenses to areas that can have more licenses under the quota system.

Butte-Silver Bow, for instance, has 56 licenses that could be floated out, Jason Wood of the Department of Revenue said.

Wood said entering the lottery does not guarantee getting a license. A Hill County resident selected to float a license into the county must find a willing seller from a location able to float a license out. The applicant must then submit a copy of the proposed sale contract and an application for approval to the Department of Revenue.

Billings had the opportunity to float in three licenses in 1999 and more than 100 applications were filed, Wood said. Two have been approved, but the ninth applicant is being considered for the third.

Every applicant for the lottery is randomly ranked, and if an application is denied, the department will look at the next-ranked applicant, he said.

There is a $200 application fee, plus whatever cost the buyer and seller agree to for the sale.

The law uses a percentage system to determine how far over quota an area can be. Hill County, excluding Havre and Hingham, is at its quota of eight licenses but the formula allows three more, Peterson said.

Jupe Compton, president of the Hill County Tavern Association, said the declining population seems to be making business slower for the existing bars on the Hi-Line.

Compton, who owns the Palace Bar in Havre, added that he doesn't think having three new licenses outside of town will affect his business a great deal.

"We don't relish the competition, but it's not insurmountable," he said.

Russell DeVries, owner of the Oxford Billiard Parlor in Havre, said adding the new licenses seems strange. He said there aren't many people from the Hi-Line coming into the bars in Havre now.

Kline said most of the people in the Rudyard area stay at bars in the area. Rudyard has the Spare Time Lounge in the K Lanes bowling alley as well as the Bank Bar.

The declining population and economic difficulties are making business slow, she said.

The population of the Rudyard area, listed as 780 in the 1991 census, dropped to 665 in 2001.

People interested in the licenses must submit an application to the Department of Revenue by Jan. 27. If more than three lottery aplications are received by the due date, the department will hold a drawing in Helena to determine which of the lottery applicants can apply for the licenses.

Only one application per location will be allowed. If more than one application is received for the same location, a lottery drawing will be held to determine which is used in the main lottery.

Applicants will be notified of the date and time of the drawing, but need not be present to be selected.

The people whose applications are selected must submit an application for the license within 30 days of the drawing.

The lottery applications must include the name of the applicant, including all potential owners, stockholders of a corporation, all partners of a partnership or all members of a limited liability company applying for the lottery.

The applications also must include the exact address of the proposed business location as well as the city or town.

The applications for the licenses must have information about ownership and location that is identical to the winning lottery applications.

Whether the applicant was selected through the lottery or because the number of applicants was at or below the number of licenses, they must then go through the application process, Peterson said.

The location and the owner must meet the necessary qualifications for the application to be approved, Peterson said. The public also is allowed to comment on whether the application should be approved, he said.

The applications must be received by Jan. 27 or bear a postmark no later than midnight of that date. For applications or more information, contact: Montana Department of Revenue, Registration and Licensing, P.O. Box 1712, Helena, MT 59624-1712.


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