By Shereen Siewert

City officials are streamlining the process for Wausau tavern owners to obtain temporary sidewalk cafe permits to serve alcoholic beverages in outdoor areas during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery.

During a special city council meeting this week, officials approved the measure, which allows tavern owners with 50 or fewer current demerit points to apply. Once approved, the outdoor serving area cannot be greater than 50 percent of the indoor licensed premises.

But little was decided about how the applications would be handled and tavern owners who hoped to be serving outdoors before the 4th of July have so far been left empty handed. Unless the current procedure changes, taverns that apply wouldn’t see their permits granted until late July.

“Our next meeting is July 20th,” Council President Becky McElhaney told Wausau Pilot & Review earlier this week. “Do we then make these businesses wait to start outside dining/serving until we meet or do we hold special meetings to approve these? Summer is short and our rationale of helping our local businesses open and serve customers in a responsible way by adhering to social distancing, will not be served by holding the applications for almost a month.”

But after hearing concerns, McElhaney and Mayor Katie Rosenberg began working on a new procedure that could be solidified during a special council meeting set for June 30.

The language is still being drafted by the city’s legal department and will be in the packet on June 29.

The new process will be streamlined and much like those for downtown dining, McElhaney said.

The applications and permit procedure remains the same and starts with the city clerk’s office, but approval will happen much more quickly as there will be no need for committee action. Instead, applications will undergo review by the clerk’s office and the Wausau Police Department.

“After speaking to all involved, we believe this will be a quick and timely response to our local establishments,” McElhaney said.