City Council by a 3-2 vote Tuesday evening acted to have voters decide in the Nov. 2 city election whether liquor stores can be established in Statesboro.
The question headed for the ballot is this: “Shall the issuance of licenses for the package sale of distilled spirits be approved?” This is the entire wording authorized in state law.
If a majority of voters say “no,” the law prohibits bringing another liquor store referendum in the city for two years.
Tuesday was the second time Statesboro City Council had considered the local resolution to initiate the referendum. The first time was the June 1 meeting, where the council voted 3-0 to table it to June 15, with two members, who were present, not voting. Those two council members, District 4’s John Riggs and District 5’s Shari Barr, cast the two “nay” votes Tuesday evening.
“I just feel it is absolutely just too rushed, too fast, and I will not approve putting it on the election in November,” Riggs said.
Both he and District 1 council member Phil Boyum participated in Tuesday’s meeting by Zoom teleconferencing, while the other three members and the mayor were there in person.
“I myself am prepared, as I was two weeks ago, to float a motion to put this on the November 2nd ballot,” Boyum said, his voice heard from the loudspeakers. “I think this would have been on the ballot a long time ago had there not been the restrictions of getting all the signatures. Now that that’s lifted, clearly there’s a lot of interest, and so I will be voting for it and putting the motion forward.”
District 3’s Venus Mack seconded the motion.
The previous requirement for signatures that Boyum spoke of was removed by Georgia Senate Bill 145, signed into law May 4 by Gov. Brian Kemp. Previously, a referendum for legalizing liquor stores could only be initiated through a petition signed by at least 35% of the registered and qualified voters in a city or county.
Senate Bill 145 lowered the petition threshold to 20%, if citizens bring a petition. But also under the new law, no petition is required if a city or county governing board initiates the referendum by passing a resolution or ordinance.
So, when Boyum and Mack first had Statesboro’s resolution placed on the city agenda, the new state law allowing this method was less than a month old.
“I agree, I think, with all the council members that I want more local citizens to vote whether or not they want alcohol in Statesboro,” Barr said Tuesday. “But I’m with John, I think this seems very fast to me, and I’m hearing from constituents who would prefer that the council kind of hammer out some of the details of what it’s going to be before we put it on the ballot, so they know what they’re voting for.”
If voters in the referendum approve legalizing liquor stores in Statesboro, the mayor and council will need to enact changes in the city’s alcoholic beverage and zoning ordinances to spell out the rules.
Mayor Jonathan McCollar spoke after the vote.
“Like I said last week, I would have preferred to have been able to get some public input in regards to this, but what my commitment will be to the citizens of Statesboro is that as this ordinance is crafted we will put together an ad hoc committee that will consist of members of the advocacy team, it will consist of law enforcement, representatives from Georgia Southern and all stakeholders across the board,” McCollar said.
“So we will definitely make sure that we do get that public input as far as the creation and crafting of the policy,” he continued. “But with that being said, everything will be decided on November the 2nd.”
The mayor and council had received information on the topic from staff members during a public work session Tuesday afternoon before the voting meeting. The information included a comparison of distance rules and other limitations various Georgia cities place on liquor stores.
A staff member from the Bulloch County Alcohol and Drug Council also presented several recommendations to the council.
This story will be expanded with some details from those presentations for Thursday’s edition.