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City takes stand against adults who host drink parties for kids

NEW LONDON -- The testimony of 10- and 12-year-old brothers and letters from school administrators and members of Kandiyohi County's Drug Free Communities Coalition helped persuade the New London City Council to get tough on adults who host parties where minors drink alcohol.

Following a public hearing Wednesday, the council unanimously approved a social host ordinance that holds people "criminally responsible" for hosting parties on private property where underage kids possess or consume alcohol, whether the person hosting the event supplied the alcohol or not.

"I believe passing this ordinance will help change some of the community members' norms on underage drinking and help keep our youth safe," wrote Dave Holmquist, the school resource officer for New London-Spicer Schools, and a father of three children.

The ordinance will give police officers like Holmquist another tool to deal with the issue of underage drinking.

"A social host ordinance will help to curtail many of the parties that slip under the radar of responsible parents," wrote Holmquist.

Under the ordinance, people will be held responsible if they knowingly or unknowingly allow those under 21 to possess or drink alcohol on their property or if they fail to "take reasonable steps to prevent possession or consumption by the underage person."

Parents could even be held liable if a drinking party is thrown at their house while they are away.

The Minnesota Student Survey says the "vast majority" of alcohol consumed by youth is provided by their older friends, parents, other family friends or at parties, according to Laura Lindeman, coordinator of the Drug Free Communities Coalition, who also wrote a letter of support.

An ordinance "sends the message to your community that you are serious about this issue and do not want adults or any individuals providing alcohol to underage youth" and will help change the attitudes and behavior of adults, she said.

Citing national statistics, NLS Superintendent Paul Carlson said 53 percent of underage kids drank at someone else's home the last time they used alcohol and another 30 percent drank in their own home.

"Statistics like these support the recommendation to hold individuals accountable for teen drinking parties," wrote Carlson.

By using a model ordinance provided by the coalition, New London tweaked the wording to suit the city's goals. New London's ordinance, which goes into effect after it is published, differs from the one Kandiyohi County implemented in 2007.

The council thought the county ordinance dealt more with noise than hosting parties, said City Administrator Trudie Guptill.

The city had been considering the ordinance all summer, but the lack of public input made them question whether an ordinance was needed.

That changed after the council received four letters and heard from a half-dozen people who attended the meeting, including 10-year-old Milyn Markkanen and 12-year-old Mitchell Markkanen. The brothers told the council about the damage alcohol can have on children and said adults in New London that host such parties should be penalized as they are in other communities.

Besides the county ordinance that is applied in rural areas, Willmar also has a social host ordinance and Spicer is considering it.

In other business Wednesday, the New London City Council approved a preliminary levy of $225,000, which is a 12.9 percent increase from 2010. The proposed 2011 budget was set at $574,072.

Even though the state has certified local government aid of $315,869 for 2011, the city kept the LGA aid at the 2010 level in the revenue column in anticipation that the state will cut that aid again next year. Last year the state reduced New London's LGA by $50,000.

The council will likely adjust the budget and levy once more information is known about state funding. The levy can be decreased, but cannot be increased, before final approval in December.