Voters say yes to alcohol sales referendums

Voters say yes to alcohol sales referendums

November 14th, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

A majority of those voting in last week's general election gave their blessing to Sunday sales of wine, beer and spirits.

Referendums concerning such sales were on ballots in the unincorporated areas of Catoosa County and in the city of Ringgold, but not on ballots of Fort Oglethorpe residents.

That is because the Fort Oglethorpe City Council decided by a 3-2 vote this summer that neither retail nor by-the-glass referendums regarding Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages would be included on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot.

The result is that when it comes to the sale or purchase of alcoholic beverages on Sundays, Fort Oglethorpe is now the only "dry" island within Catoosa County.

Local officials said that being able to sell beer and wine on Sunday allows retail outlets to compete on equal footing with their counterparts just across the stateline in Tennessee. Allowing Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages for onsite consumption could attract high-end restaurants and will in no way lead to bars sprouting up across the local landscape, officials say.

"This is an opportunity to help our small businesses," said Keith Greene, chairman of the Catoosa County Commission. "It allows us to be competitive with the businesses that are just across the state line in regards to Sunday sales."

He said the county will probably adopt regulations and rates for licensing that are comparable to those now in place in the county's municipalities.

County Attorney Chad Young said he hopes the county will be prepared to accept license applications beginning Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, the first business day of the new year.

"We will have to replace our existing ordinances regarding the sale of beer and wine," he said.

The county could move toward having a nearly uniform approach to regulations, with a few exceptions, he said.

"The county will have to determine how to deal with events at The Colonnade and the Northwest Georgia Bank Amphitheatre," Young said. "It seems silly to have three totally diverse ordinances. Really, at the end of the day, the goal is to have only one main difference between the three [the cities and county] and that will be Fort Oglethorpe not allowing Sunday sales."

He and Greene said mandating a minimum number of seats at any establishment seeking a license - a ratio between gross sales of food related to those of alcohol - setting hours of operation and other regulations will prevent bars springing up across the county.

"You will potentially see more upscale restaurants looking to our county," Greene said, noting that many national chain restaurants and motels consider revenue from the sale of alcohol as a necessity.

Ringgold residents approved two local Sunday sales referendums: one that expands current laws regulating retail package sales of beer and wine, and another that concerns selling liquor by the drink for on-premises consumption.

Revising the city's ordinance will primarily consist of setting hours for Sunday operations, officials said.

Of those voting in Ringgold, 58 percent said "yes" to allowing retail sales of alcoholic beverages in place like grocery or convenience stores on Sundays. Nearly the same percentage of voters approved a referendum that permits restaurants to sell liquor by the glass on Sundays.

A countywide referendum on whether to permit retail/package sales on Sunday was approved by 52.27 percent of all those participating in last week's election. In addition to being asked whether or not to allow Sunday sales, the countywide ballot presented a choice regarding the by-the-glass sale of distilled spirits in areas outside Ringgold or Fort Oglethorpe.

In 2000 Ringgold voters approved a liquor-by-the-drink referendum, while in Fort Oglethorpe the measure was soundly defeated after church groups and others actively protested against it.

In 2005 the measure was again on the ballot in Fort Oglethorpe, and voters approved it by a wide margin.

This year, voters countywide found a referendum that asked: "Shall the governing authority of Catoosa County be authorized to issue licenses to sell distilled spirits for beverage purposes by the drink, such sales to be for consumption only on the premises?"

Slightly more than 59 percent of the those voting in the countywide general election answered "yes."

Young said the rewriting of local ordinances, including establishing a new fee schedule for licenses, should be complete and ready for adoption by the County Board of Commissioners before the end of the year.

"We hope to have it adopted at the last meeting in December, maybe sooner," he said.

A Dry Island

During Fort Oglethopre's municipal elections in November 2011, a referendum regarding Sunday package sales of alcoholic beverages was defeated 594-487 when about 19 percent of the city's registered voters went to the polls.

If the City Council decides to revisit the alcoholic beverage issue, the city's residents could see a referendum regarding Sunday sales on the March 19, 2013 ballot. That is when voters decide whether or not to extend SPLOST (local option sales tax) for another five years.