The Portland City Council voted Monday to postpone new licensing rules and fees for breweries, wineries and distilleries until November to allow city officials to meet with business owners caught off guard by the changes.

The delay comes after brewery owners complained they were blindsided by the manufacturing license fee, which was part of the city budget that took effect July 1 but was never questioned or debated during the public review process. The annual fee for a license is $2,000 a year for large brewers and $250 for smaller ones.

The council voted 7-0 to delay implementation until Nov. 1.

The fees were projected to bring in more than $26,000 in new revenue. They were never publicly vetted or debated by the council, which approved it as part of a standard list of fee increases routinely approved as part of the budget process. Manufacturers learned about the change when they received a notice to pay the fee this summer.

City Councilor Kimberly Cook, whose district includes several breweries in the Riverton neighborhood, made the emergency request to delay implementation of the fee. She said she was unaware of the fee until she was contacted by brewery owners who were informed of it in a June 28 letter from the city.

Cook argued for an even longer delay Monday, saying there needs to be more discussion about the new licensing program and whether the size of the fees is appropriate.

Several brewery owners also urged the council to delay the fees until there is a more complete public review and a better explanation about why the new expense is needed and why only their manufacturing businesses are targeted.

Tina Bonney, co-owner and business manager of Foundation Brewing Co., said the $2,000 fee is double what the brewery pays for a state license, which already comes with oversight and inspections.

‘A SEAT AT THE TABLE’

Will Fisher, owner of Austin Street Brewery, said the cost is significant, especially given that his company operates two breweries in the city, but there was no communication with the industry before the budget passed.

“We’re essentially just asking for a seat at the table,” he said. “What is this for? Where is it going? Is there something we’re doing that is detrimental to the city or something we’re just not aware of?”

Peter Bissell, owner of Bissell Brothers Brewing, said the businesses want someone to explain why they shouldn’t see the fee as simply a money grab from a popular industry.

“If there’s a stress that we’re putting on Portland infrastructure, we’re happy to pay,” he said. “But this just doesn’t seem like it’s that.”

City councilors said the licensing fees were in the public budget documents reviewed by the council earlier this year, and were not slipped into the budget when no one was looking. Some councilors said they were aware of them and didn’t consider them an issue, while others said they were focused on other things and wished they had raised questions about the proposal at the time.

“I regret that I didn’t look at this more closely,” Councilor Belinda Ray said.

Another councilor, Jill Duson, defended the fee amounts, saying city staff sets fees based on the cost of licensing and inspecting.

STATE REDEFINING BREWERY SIZES 

Councilor Nicholas Mavodones was among those who initially opposed delaying the fees for as much as a year, and said it would set a bad precedent to change the budget based on complaints from one affected group. He agreed on the shorter delay to allow city staff to meet with business owners.

“We don’t have conversations with every group that we raise fees or add fees on,” he said. “There are many other people who we have raised fees on that expressed concerns to me.”

The delay until November effectively means several breweries will see their licensing fees drop from $2,000 to $250, even if the city decides to leave the rules intact. That’s because the state is changing the official definition of a large brewery from 50,000 gallons a year to 930,000 gallons a year.

Portland councilors said the city fees will be based on the state’s definition and five breweries will be reclassified as small breweries before the city licensing fees are imposed.

Staff Writer John Richardson contributed to this report.


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