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BOC debates alcohol ordinance

COVINGTON -- Commissioners are continuing to hash out the details of an ordinance regulating sales of alcoholic beverages in preparation for a public referendum.

The BOC held a work session Monday night to discuss the proposed ordinance. A sticking point continues to be the distance requirements. State law requires that establishments serving or selling alcohol be a minimum of 300 feet from certain facilities,including schools, churches, alcohol addiction treatment centers and housing authorities and 200 feet from a public library.

Commissioner Mort Ewing said he wants the county ordinance to be more stringent, upping that minimum to 500 feet. Ewing said that, "Newton County has a history of having regulations a little more stringent than those in other locations."

Commissioner Nancy Schulz said the impact of that could deter high-quality restaurants from locating here.

"If we leave it at 500 we may be substantially different from other jurisdictions and restaurants may choose not to locate here because standards may be too stringent," Schulz said.

Schulz added that she consulted with local resident Denny Dobbs, a former state legislator who in the 1980s helped craft the original state legislation. Dobbs had proposed that minimum distance requirements be 1,000 feet. After meeting with opposition, Dobbs measured off the distance between the Rock Store in Almon and a nearby church and determined that anything above 300 feet would be prohibitive for businesses wishing to sell alcohol.

Schulz said that information should be considered given that the Almon community is one of the designated overlays where liquor by the drink sales will be allowed.

Restaurants and hotels/motels wishing to sell alcoholic beverages will be required to be zoned neighborhood commercial, highway commercial or general commercial and located in overlay districts. Currently, there are two established overlays available: Almon/Crowell Road Overlay District and the Town Center Overlay in the multi-county mixed use business park Stanton Springs. Overlays are also in the works for several other sites, including the Salem Road corridor.

Commissioners also discussed licensing fees. Commissioner Tim Fleming said he has received complaints regarding the proposed fee amounts, particularly the $400 fee for a background check by the Sheriff's Office. That amount was recommended by Sheriff Ezell Brown in a February memo to the board.

The intent of fees is to cover administrative costs and not to generate revenue, said Jenny Carter with the County Attorney's Office. The fees were calculated based on the time and costs to the Sheriff's Office and the Department of Development Services. There is no differentiation on beer and wine fees and liquor fees.

"We could not come up with any rationale to have a cheaper beer and wine license because the work is still the same," she said.

As currently proposed, an on-premises consumption license would cost $5,650, both for the original license and for renewal. That includes administrative cost for the Department of Development Services, the Sheriff's Office and the cost of the actual license.

In addition, a pouring permit would cost $125 for the original and $100 for renewal. Additional fees would include $40 for fingerprinting and a $250 appeal fee.

Package sale license fees would be upped by $150 to $1,300 for the original license and renewal.

County Manager John Middleton said restaurant owners have been willing to be annexed in a municipality in order to be able to serve alcohol.

"We've seen that over and over. People are willing to pay $10,000 to $15,000 more in property taxes for the privilege in addition to $3,000 to $4,000 for a liquor license," he said.

Schulz said that while municipal licenses are cheaper, business owners in the cities also are taxed twice, by the city and the county.

"I think our intent is to bring in those high-quality restaurants. They are going to serve both kinds of alcohol. They are not going to limit sales to just beer and wine," she said regarding charging the same for beer and wine and liquor licenses.

The county is considering three separate issues: alcohol package sales on Sundays; sales by the drink; and sales by the drink on Sundays. A referendum in July would require a vote by the commissioners by April 3. Since they have indicated a desire to have two public hearings prior to approval of the ordinance, that likely won't be possible, said Chairman Kathy Morgan. To make it on the General Election ballot in November, approval is required by June 5.

Comments

Newton 2 years, 9 months ago

Why is this so hard BOC! Every other county in GA can seem to get a handle on this but us. Heck Social Circle is gonna vote! Prohibition is over Mort!! We need people to speak up about why we cannot vote like everyone else. And also why is Jen Carter advising the board? Do we not pay Tommy Craig? He bills us but not always showing at meetings.

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dennistay53 2 years, 9 months ago

Who is running the third district? Is it Schutz or Denny Dobbs?

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will 2 years, 9 months ago

Is it kind of strange that Nancy and Denny are very close friends, Who is calling the shots? Just saying. Mort on the East side and Denny, im sorry I ment to say Nancy on the west side.

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amp72 2 years, 9 months ago

Oh my lord.... I need a few beers after reading this! Why are they making this so difficult? No wonder nothing ever gets done around here.

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Billy 2 years, 9 months ago

Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't you boozers stock up during the week; spend your entire paycheck if necessary. We wouldn't want you to miss a second of drinking! All the gleeful excitement of being able to buy a drink anytime of the week is not to your credit, but don't take my word for it. You're definely not trying to impress anybody on the other side...

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amp72 2 years, 9 months ago

It's not about drinking when we want, it's about the freedom to choose. That's one of the cornerstones of this country's founding. So you're OK with a half dozen people dictating what the rest of us can and can't do, so far as it is a legal commodity? I don't plan on buying a ton of alcohol on Sundays but why deny me the right to purchase something that is legal whenever I want to? And it's unfair to call us "boozers," just like it's unfair for me to label you a religious zealot because you don't share the same viewpoint as I do. It's also about providing a stepping stone to bringing in more business and tax receipts for the county. What's wrong with that?

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John 2 years, 9 months ago

Well I guess the next thing you'll want is to have Chik-fil-a required to be open on Sunday to bring in more business & tax receipts and get more freedom to choice.

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amp72 2 years, 9 months ago

Talk about a flimsy argument. Chick Fil A has that right, to stay open or closed. It's a business decision ON THEIR END. If they choose to stay closed, fine. But McDonald's, Subway, Burger King, etc all have that right too. So too should establishments that sell alcohol. If they want to stay closed, fine. Stay closed. I find it odd that I can buy a pron magazine and a scratch off ticket at a gas station on Sunday but I can't buy a beer. So pornography and gambling is OK on Sundays but a beer is not?

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wayne 2 years, 8 months ago

you aren't real quick are you? Nobody is requiring anybody to do anything. If a store wants to sell something on Sunday, they shoud be able to. Maybe you think Ace Hardware should be required to not sell screws and nails on Thursday?

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amp72 2 years, 8 months ago

By that example you actually make my point. Chick Fil A as a business has the choice to stay open or close. Same with liquor stores if the county would get off their butts and allow choice. If a store refuses to sell alcohol on Sundays then I am fine with that. It's all about freedom. To use your logic, Chik Fil A, McDonalds, Wendys, Subway etc. would all forced to be closed whether they like it or not. I am all about freedom to choose. Isn't it strange that I can buy a lottery ticket and a nudey magazine on Sundays but I can't buy beer?

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MysticalRev 2 years, 9 months ago

I find it intresting that the BOC wants to increase the buffer for alcohol sales and they were all for decreasing the buffer between the proposed Home Depot on 212 and the graveyard.

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HonestAbe 2 years, 9 months ago

Just be glad they are going to let you vote on this. I guess Craig couldn't find a loop hole to keep this from the voters as he and the three commissioners did on the government change to the county manager.I don't care how the vote goes but if you think passing is going to lower your property tax you need to look at past history. The more this county brings in is the more it wastes

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John 2 years, 9 months ago

With an increase of alcohol sales on Sunday, does that mean that sales on Friday & Saturday will go down.

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Frustrated 2 years, 9 months ago

Has the BOC consulted with any other counties or cities to see what their license fees are? $400 for a background check? Give me a break!! It doesnt cost that much to process the check. All they do is take your fingerprints turn them over to the GBI and then run your name on the computer to find out if they have a criminal record. Servers dont make that much money to start with so lets just charge them an outrageous fee to be able to serve liquor and put it out of their range. It looks like ole Mort is trying to being back prohibition all on his own. Restaurants were willing to be annexed into the cities because the county had no ordinance for alcohol by the drink not because they wanted to pay more in taxes. If your going to tell the story at least make it believable. Come on BOC catch up to the times!!!

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momofone 2 years, 9 months ago

This is not that dificult people, they should look at what other counties are doing to ensure that we are keeping ourselves competitive with the surrounding areas. The idea is to bring in revenue and increase people staying in the community instead of going elsewhere. We need to step up and quit trying to keep this as a backwoods county. Do you want this area to stay a sleeper community -or- be a community where people, live and play? Up to the BOC, but they really need to think and maybe it is time to get "new blood" onto the board.

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