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Gering Council hears input on bar hours
July 29, 2010 Jerry Purvis   

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Members of the Gering City Council took no action, but did hear from the public about a proposal to extend closing time in Gering’s bars from 1 a.m. until 2 a.m.
The option to extend closing time was included in the 94-page LB 861, passed this session by the Nebraska Legislature. Heavy support came from the Omaha area, where bars felt disadvantaged by patrons traveling to Iowa, where closing time is 2 a.m. The legislation allows each municipality in the state the choice of extending their bar hours.
Rev. Lauren Ekdahl, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Gering, was first to speak. “The 1 a.m. closing is adequate for the kind of activities taking place,” he said. “I don’t see anything beneficial that would be derived from moving to a later time. We don’t need to enhance the dependence on alcohol that some people seem to think they need to have a good time.”
Joan Fisher of Gering told the council she didn’t think the revenue generated from that extra hour would offset the cost of additional law enforcement. She also asked why the city would consider changing an ordinance that has worked well in the past.
Lanette Richards, program coordinator for Project Extra Mile, said statistics show that hours and dates of sales has a direct impact on alcohol consumption. She added that recent surveys of the public indicated opposition to extending the bar hours.
Kent Ewing, owner of the Oregon Trail Lounge in Gering, said he needs to look at the proposal from a business standpoint, although the current 1 a.m. closing time works for him.
“Wyoming is within 30 miles of here,” Ewing said. “The young adults who want to continue drinking after 1 a.m. will go to Torrington.”
He added that if any city within about 60 miles of Gering chooses to extend their bar hours, patrons will go there.
“I consider my business a controlled environment,” Ewing said. “We enforce the over-serving laws and pay attention to what’s going on in our facility.”
He said staying open an additional hour would cost him money in liability insurance and more staff, so he originally opposed extending the closing time. But he added that Gering bars would be at a financial disadvantage if another municipality votes to let the bars close at 2 a.m. In addition, impaired drivers on the highway could become a real problem.
Captain Jason Rogers of the Gering Police Department said the department is taking a neutral stand on the issue. If bar hours are extended to 2 a.m., the police will deal with any problems just as they currently do with the 1 a.m. closing.
Several council members, including Manuel Escamilla, Larry Gibbs and Don Christensen expressed their opposition to the proposed extension. But it was Joyce Hillman-Kortum who pointed out the state didn’t do the cities any favor by allowing each of them to decide whether to extend the hours or not.
“It was Omaha that really pushed this option,” she said. “It’s an issue that should be decided on a statewide basis. What the Legislature decided makes no sense.”
The proposal of whether or not to extend bar closing time to 2 a.m. will now go to the city’s Public Safety Committee, who will consider the public input. If the committee recommends approval, a draft ordinance will be sent back to the city council for consideration.
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