Portland wants a new license for alcohol manufacturers. Is that really necessary?


When Portland City Councilors approved the city’s budget in May, it included a new manufacturing license for breweries, wineries and distilleries that would cost manufacturers $2,000 if they produce more than 50,000 gallons of alcohol and $250 for those who make 50,000 gallons or less.

City Councilor Kimberly Cook does not recall the new license requirement and fees being discussed by the entire city council and believes they merit further consideration. To that end, she made an emergency request to delay implementation of the license and fees in order for the city to debate the matter more thoroughly. A measure to delay implementation until November 1, 2019 succeeded at a city council meeting on Monday. 

Alcohol manufacturing businesses were “blindsided” by a letter they received from the city that explained that they’d need to pay a fee in order for their manufacturing license to be administered. Some alcohol manufacturing businesses were more concerned about not having a seat at the table rather than the fee itself.

According to Jessica Hanscombe, Portland’s Licensing and Housing Safety Manager, the new license is necessary because there have been violations of city zoning and permitting requirements that could have been avoided had manufacturers been required to obtain a license.

Source: City of Portland

The fee would pay for the cost of health and safety inspections and the amount of staff time necessary to administer a license. If this is the only reason the city is pursuing these new requirements and fees, they will be punishing all breweries, wineries, and distilleries who have not done anything wrong — punishing the many for the mistakes of a few.

According to city council agenda minutes from the May 20, 2019 meeting, the new licensing fee would only generate $26,250 in new revenue annually for the City of Portland. While this might cover the cost of administering the licenses, city councilors need to discuss whether the licenses are necessary in the first place. 

Some brewery owners are scratching their heads over the new license. The State of Maine already has licensing requirements that necessitate fees from alcohol manufacturers that are less than the proposed city fees. For example, large breweries are required to pay $1,000 and small brewers pay $50 to the state, about half of what the city is proposing. This begs the question: Why would Portland City Council move forward with the implementation of these new rules if the state already has their own regulations?

Regardless of the motive behind the new requirements, the City of Portland is taking a short-sighted approach to governing. Policies that increase expenses for businesses do not exist in a bubble and often have unintended consequences. For example, instituting baseless fees on private businesses could result in those entities moving elsewhere to avoid paying or result in higher prices for consumers. 

As always, it seems, Portland is eager to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.


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