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Alcohol ordinance faces another first reading
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Hatcher - photo by FILE
    The Statesboro City Council meets tonight to discuss two changes to the alcohol ordinance brought up at the last meeting while leaving two other changes for the first meeting in November, after further revision and discussion.
    On tonight’s agenda, the council will hold a first reading of an ordinance change to extend the hours of operation on Saturday night, for licensed establishments, from midnight to 1 a.m.  The other change under consideration will allow alcohol license holders to submit their excise taxes and reports on a quarterly basis, instead of the current monthly schedule.
    Missing from the agenda are two other changes to the alcohol ordinance that were passed at the last council meeting, namely the dissolution of the Alcohol Control Board and the creation of three alcohol license categories – restaurants, taverns and bars.
    Even though all four changes were previously passed, Mayor Bill Hatcher, City Manager Shane Haynes and Councilman Will Britt – who motioned for the changes – met to discuss the traditional procedure for recommending changes to city ordinances. At the meeting, they all agreed the two minor modifications will face a first reading because nothing in the motions spelled out the necessary wording changes for insertion into the code.
    “(The motion) did not have the places that the ordnance was going to change written out, so in order to be a first reading, that needs to be the case,” Hatcher said. “That’s always been the case for us.”
    City Attorney Sam Brannen said when changes to the city’s ordinances are made, typically they are written out before a first reading happens.
    “Well, certainly (the wording of the ordinance) was not written when Will (Britt) made his motion for the changes,” Brannen said. “He made a motion to do certain things without anything in writing, which is normally not the way to do it.”
    Hatcher said despite the procedural inconsistency, he does not perceive these two changes to be controversial.
    On the other hand, dissolving the ACB and creating three license categories was postponed because more work needs to be done to make sure the ordinances are changed properly. Not only is the ACB mentioned numerous times in the code, but changing to three license categories could have planning and zoning implications as well.
    “If you do away with the ACB, you have to come back (and insert into the ordinances) with whatever is going to take its place,” Brannen said.
    Currently, city staff handles the paperwork and background checks for individuals looking to acquire an alcohol license. All hearings regarding violations of the alcohol ordnance are handled by the city council, with the ACB acting only in an advisory capacity.
    “As you can imagine, the ACB touches a lot of different places in the ordinance and (creating three classifications) changes the ordinance dramatically and leaves a lot of unanswered questions, so we were unable to get them ready for a first reading at this meeting,” Hatcher said. “This will clean them up and have it done in a proper way.”
    Hatcher said taking this extra time would give the council an opportunity to hold a public hearing or a workshop open to the public where citizens – both for and against – would be allowed to offer their opinions to the council for their consideration.
    Britt said members of council approached him and said they would have preferred to have three or four days' notice these changes were to be brought up at a meeting, instead of bringing them up unannounced during other business. While he agrees that any official changes to the ordinance need to be brought in front of the citizens in the form of two readings, he bristled at the idea he brought these topics up clandestinely, since they have been vetted at numerous city meetings and workshops.
    “I had already asked for this to be considered and talked about, but we had never voted on it. So, instead of having a meeting to talk about it and a meeting to plan it and a meeting to do it, I just did it,” Britt said. “These were business owner requests and I addressed them for five years. In council, this particular time, I realized I wanted to bring them forward, which I had already done in previous meetings but it hadn’t gotten anywhere.”
    If three alcohol license categories are created, restaurants would operate as always and be required to generate at least 50 percent of their gross receipts from food sales. Taverns would be required to generate at least 35 percent of their sales from food, but would restrict patronage to 18-and-up after 10 p.m. Bars would be 21-and-over at all times but would have no food percentage requirement. All three would be required to keep kitchen personnel on staff and five menu items available for order any time the establishment is serving alcohol.

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