SALISBURY — After a nearly five-decade prohibition, the Board of Selectmen may soon have the power to grant liquor licenses again.

Town Liquor License Commission Chairman Michael Gilbert said the commission came to a consensus at its Sept. 14 meeting and intends to vote at its meeting this Thursday on whether to submit a warrant article for the fall Town Meeting to dissolve the commission.

While many Bay State boards of selectmen act as the town's licensing authority, Salisbury has done things differently since 1958, according to the Gilbert.

"I only have second-hand information but there was some corruption among some of the elected officials in the 1950s," Gilbert said. "So the state took the liquor licensing process away from the Board of Selectmen."

Gilbert has served on the commission since 2011 and said the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission – to which his seven-member board reports – has been moving quickly to a paperless system.

"What normally happens is, a licensing applicant comes to the local Liquor Licensing Commission first," Gilbert said. "We go over any local requirements and make sure it is in order, then we send the application to the state for approval. But everything is moving towards electronics and our board has no clerical support. When it comes to emails, anything that has to be done electronically goes to the town manager's administrative assistant and is forwarded back to myself as chair."

According to Gilbert, Town Manager Neil Harrington filed a warrant article for a Town Meeting in 2000 to petition the state to repeal the legislation which the enabled the Liquor License Commission in 1958. But the local commission did not approve of the idea at the time and the petition was withdrawn.

Stuck with "not a lot to do," Gilbert said it seems as if the commission is ready to call it a day.

"We had significantly more seasonal licenses six years ago and a lot of that was a paper process for both annual and seasonal licenses at the time," Gilbert said. "Since then, a lot of people have either gone out of business or gone to full annual licenses."

Prior liquor license commissions also spent their time visiting various restaurants and bars in town which Gilbert said is also becoming a thing of the past.

"The prior commissions spent a lot of time doing inspections and checking things out," Gilbert said. "But the commission feels that this is more of a police matter these days and that appears to be the case in most towns. The police have gotten various grants over the last few years to do underage and over serving checks and the compliance of business owners has been good."

Both the Liquor License Commission and the Board of Selectmen appear to be on the page at this time according to Gilbert.

"The only additional licenses we have available are full alcohol pouring licenses and we want those to go to restaurants, not to bars," Gilbert said. "We have a significant number of bars that don't serve food."

"Let's see what the will of the town is," Gilbert said. "The need for the commission has been reduced to the point that the commissioners felt that we should return licensing authority to the Board of Selectmen. We'll see (if the town) wants to proceed forwarding licenses to the Legislature, or do they want to return the licensing to the Board of Selectmen."

 The commission is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at Salisbury Town Hall.

Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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