After wrestling with the question for months, the Maryville City Council is still not quite ready to make a decision on whether to raise the age standard for entry into local bars and taverns from 19 to 21, Missouri's legal drinking age.
However, it looks like the call will be made one way or the other at the governing board's next regular meeting on Tuesday, May 28.
This week, the council directed City Attorney Doug Thomson to prepare an ordinance raising the age minimum for consideration at that time. If supported by three of the five council members, the standard will change, if not the law will stay as it is.
As the issue has evolved, however, it appears likely — no matter how the vote turns out — that the city will move beyond the bar age question in an effort to adopt what Mayor Jim Fall called a "comprehensive plan" to stem a variety of alcohol-related problems common to most college towns.
Fall said Monday that plan, likely a series of ordinances to be considered over the summer for implementation before school starts, should consist of restrictions on drinking in public and off-campus house parties.
Unlike most university communities, Maryville has no ordinance banning the consumption of alcohol on sidewalks and in other open spaces.
Maryville Public Safety Director Keith Wood has said he favors such a restriction, which would probably contain exceptions for special events and locations, such as the designated tailgating area prior to Northwest Missouri State University football games or the beer stand at the Nodaway County Fair.
Additional alcohol regulations could create greater liability for residents who permit underage drinking in their homes, and law enforcement procedures that encourage closer cooperation between Maryville Public Safety and the Northwest Missouri State Police Department.
Fall said merely raising the bar entry age, a step opposed by both Wood and Northwest Police Chief Clarence Green, is unlikely to make much of a dent in underage drinking without other measures that address the problem along a broad front.
"We don't just want to change it (the entry age) and say, 'Let the house parties begin and whatever happens, happens," he said. "The broader brush we're going to paint this with, the better off we're going to be ultimately."
Just because it looks like a bar-age ordinance is finally heading for a vote does not mean passage is assured. In addition to Wood and Green, at least a couple of council members have voiced doubts about the proposal, citing fears that young drinkers are more at risk at private gatherings where they are beyond the reach of police bar patrols and ID checks.