Rochester Hills City Council Approves New Underage Drinking Penalty

by DREW HOWARD

The Rochester Hills City Council approved a new local ordinance that would minimize the penalty for underage drinking on a first offense during their meeting on Monday, October 23.

Council members unanimously approved a new local ordinance that would charge minors who purchase, consume or possess alcohol with a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor. A civil infraction differs from a misdemeanor as it often results in a fine, not jail time.

The new penalty mirrors changes in the state’s underage drinking laws made in the past couple of months. John D. Staran, city attorney said it’s important that Rochester Hills enforces the same policies presented at the state level.

“In order to have an enforceable minors in possession law, it’s important that our ordinance be similar to basically mimic the state law,” Staran said.

Vice President Stephanie Morita also expressed her support, saying a decrease in punishment for first offenders ultimately makes more sense.

“I’m so glad the state figured out that kid’s make mistakes, and that they shouldn’t have a criminal record at least the first time around,” Morita said.

Council members took time to discuss the recent Michigan Supreme Court decision in the City of Escanaba vs. Menards taxing court case. The Michigan Supreme Court resolved to put big box stores like Menards, Home Depot, and Walmart on an equal playing field with small businesses in terms of property taxes.

Vice President Morita, who helped spearhead the case, explained that big box stores have been receiving “unprecedented” property tax breaks, which is unfair to smaller competing businesses in the area.

“What this win does is level the playing field so that these big stores end up paying taxes at the same rate as your small stores,” Morita said. “It doesn’t give them an unfair advantage over our smaller business owners who really tend to be more of the heart of our communities.”

Several council members praised Morita’s work on the case, with Mr. Staran describing the court decision as a “major victory for municipalities.”

“It’s a real good step that should help us recover some of that lost taxable value that we’ve really gone without due to the artificially low valuations that our assessors had put on these properties,” Staran said. “I commend Morita, who is very prominent and well known for her expertise in the field.”

Earlier in the meeting, Rochester Hills Chief Financial Officer Joe Snyder presented his third-quarter budget amendments to the council. Snyder’s amendments included a decrease in total revenues by $469,000 and a decrease in total expenditures by $685,740.

The new budget will result in a net decrease in the use of the city’s funds by a balance of $216,000. The council voted unanimously in favor of the budget amendments.

On a lighter note, Mayor Bryan Barnett expressed his excitement over a recent USA Today article which ranked Rochester Hills as the 14th most livable city in the United States. Rochester Hills was the only city in Michigan to be recognized on the list.

“Our goal as a team is to be the preeminent place to live, work and raise a family, and to have that goal validated by the USA Today is pretty nice,” Mayor Barnett said. “It kind of gives us a feeling like we’re on the right path, and it’s really a recognition that all of our residents can take credit for.”

The USA Today article highlighted Rochester Hills’s low crime rate, superior testing scores among high school students and above-average home values.

To watch a video of the council’s latest meeting in full, please visit the council’s YouTube channel titled “Council Meetings – City of Rochester Hills”.