Intoxicating Liquors FAQ 14

Can a municipality refuse to issue an alcohol beverage license because the applicant has failed to pay a fine, tax, assessment, fee or other debt by owed by the applicant to the municipality?

Yes. State law specifically authorizes a municipality to "refuse to issue any license [except those listed] or permit to a person who has not paid an overdue forfeiture resulting from a violation of an ordinance of the municipality." Wis. Stat. sec. 66.0115(1). However, the municipality may not refuse to issue a license for nonpayment of a forfeiture if the license applicant is appealing the imposition of the forfeiture. Wis. Stat. sec. 66.0115(1).

State law also provides sufficient general alcohol license regulatory authority for a municipality to enact an ordinance that prohibits the issuance of an alcohol beverage license (retail or operator) where the applicant owes municipal taxes, assessments or other fees. See Wis. Stat. sec. 125.10(1). However, such an ordinance must apply to all municipal licenses, not just alcohol beverage licenses. Moreover, alcohol licenses cannot be withheld for failure to pay taxes or other debts owed to the state or federal government. Tavern League v. Madison, 131 Wis. 2d 477, 389 N.W.2d 54 (Ct. App. 1986).

When an initial license is withheld for failure to pay municipal taxes, an outstanding forfeiture or similar grounds, the municipality should give the applicant notice and an opportunity to rebut the charge. If a renewal license is withheld, then the procedures for the nonrenewal of the license set forth in chapter 125 would apparently have to be followed. See Tavern League v. Madison, supra.