Statesboro City Council has before it separate proposals to establish an Alcohol Advisory Board and raise most establishments' beverage license fees by $500 or a little more, in addition to a completely new Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance that could be adopted at the next meeting.
An additional $300 permit fee would also be applied to businesses that sell alcoholic beverages on Sundays.
After two years of discussions, the 50-page alcohol ordinance appeared for an official first reading on Tuesday evening's regular council meeting. Council members informally agreed to some changes that had been debated during a Feb. 2 council work session. But City Attorney Alvin Leaphart already had some of these highlighted in Tuesday's draft, and Mayor Jan Moore said after the meeting that council could vote March 1 to adopt the ordinance.
"I know it has been an arduous process over the past two years, but I'm really, really proud of what council has accomplished in the last month, and I think at the end of the day citizens of Statesboro can be very proud of the product it has produced," Moore said.
She thought the changes remaining to be made after Tuesday's discussion were not enough to require a new first reading, she said.
Strictly advisory board
Meanwhile, a separate ordinance establishing the advisory board was also given a "first reading" hearing Tuesday. Two readings of an ordinance at separate meetings are not required, but are traditional.
Despite some earlier discussions, neither the ordinance establishing the advisory board nor the larger alcohol ordinance would empower the board to hold hearings on alleged violations. During one previous work session, council members and Leaphart talked about having the board conduct hearings before sending cases to the council with recommendations. But that was not in Tuesday's draft.
Instead, the proposed new section of city law creating the board says it "shall have the authority to prepare studies and reports for the purpose of informing the governing body on policy matters related to the licensing and sale of alcoholic beverages."
Councilman John Riggs, who advocated creating the advisory board, said this is the way he envisioned it working.
"The way I see our alcohol ordinance, there's so much stuff in here, I don't know how well it's going to work in six months," Riggs said. "We need help from the whole community to let us know, 'this part works; this part does not work, go back and relook at it.' I think the advisory board will be an excellent tool to help us."
The five council members and the mayor would each name one of the six members of the advisory board. The unpaid, appointed members would serve two-year terms, beginning this July 1.
Fees fund officer
Employing an alcoholic beverages control officer under the Statesboro Police Department was proposed during city budget discussions last spring. But the job was never funded, and no "ABC" officer has been appointed. At first, a $1,000 increase in the annual cost of each alcoholic beverage license was proposed, but Moore said that such an increase was excessive and would penalize law-abiding businesses.
The fee schedule presented as a proposed resolution Tuesday answers the mayor's request for a new plan for funding the position, said Interim City Manager Robert Cheshire.
It spreads the fee increase out among different license components. Stores that sell both beer and wine for off-premises consumption would pay a $1,750 license fee, or $500 more than the current $1,250 fee. A store that sells only beer or wine but not both would pay only $875.
For restaurants, clubs and bars, the new pouring license fees would be $1,425 for beer, $1,425 for wine and $1,425 for liquor. So an establishment serving all three would pay $4,275, an increase of $525 from the current $3,750 fee for a license to sell beer, wine and liquor by the drink.
Boyum to abstain
As of January, a draft of the Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance included a section to establish alcoholic beverage service permits that would have been required of all managers, bartenders and servers, with a different type required of bouncers. But after the Feb. 2 discussion, that passage was put in red print, indicating it would probably be removed, going into Tuesday night's meeting.
Councilman Phil Boyum had voiced opposition to the service permit requirement. Tuesday, he did so again, but also announced he will abstain from voting on the ordinance. He works for SpringHill Suites, and has recently been promoted to general manager of the chain's Statesboro hotel.
Boyum noted that SpringHill Suites holds a Statesboro beer and wine license, and said this means he must abstain from voting as having a substantial interest. But he also cited numbers to indicate that alcoholic beverages constitute about 0.1 percent of the hotel's revenue.
"So, although I will not vote on the ordinance, I'm looking to the council for guidance to continue to represent my district and discuss the alcohol ordinance," Boyum said.
Moore praised Boyum for applying the city's ethics ordinance when it means giving up his vote on the issue.
"I know it was a tough call for him, but I think it's the absolutely right thing to do," Moore said.
On the service permits, Boyum noted that police officials in the past cited the work required to enforce such a requirement. Unlike the beverage licenses, which are issued to about 90 businesses, these permits would have gone to most of their individual employees, which Boyum estimated to number about 1,000 at any one time.
If a permit holder was caught twice serving to underage customers, something he said has rarely happened, the permit would have been revoked.
"To have every single one of them do a background check and every single one of them go through that process just to catch that one or two people, it just seems like it's too much of an administrative burden and, you know, we've got better things to do with that money," Boyum said.
However, he said he supported having some requirements for bouncers. He also suggested that the future alcoholic beverage control officer could be used to monitor that servers get required training.
Leaphart told the council that when he removes the service permit passage, a requirement for a criminal background check and minimum age of 21 for bouncers can easily be retained. The draft already cited a 2015 Georgia law that defines what bouncers are and requires them to be at least 21 years old.
Another previously discussed provision that is not going forward would have allowed special permits for open container drinks at outdoor events sponsored by the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority or a local brewery. Instead, Boyum, who objected to granting these organizations privileges, and Leaphart discussed new wording that will allow anyone to request such a permit, but only the council could grant it, setting requirements case by case.
Other provisions have been reported previously. The draft can be found in the Feb. 16 council packet at www.statesboroga.gov. Go to "Mayor & Council" on the top bar to find agendas and minutes on the drop-down.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.