Last year, the Georgia Legislature gave counties and cities the right to put the question on the ballot, Seth Hunt told commissioners.
“All the surrounding counties have either already passed Sunday sales or it is on the ballot,” he said. “Not having Sunday sales is a loss of tax revenue for the county and a loss of revenue for the county’s businesses, and not just in alcohol sales, but other sales as well. It may not seem like that big a deal, but if visitors can’t get what they want they will go somewhere else and spend their money.”
Both commissioners Tim Bowden and Clarence Stowers spoke against allowing it to become a ballot question.
“I think the legislature passed it on to the counties because they got weak,” said Stowers. “Chick-fil-A closes on Sunday, and it is one of the most successful businesses there is.”
Stowers also said that in reality, there is very little money in Sunday sales when it comes to sales tax.
“Even if we made $100,000 a year that would only pay for two deputies—just the deputies, not their cars or equipment. It doesn’t pay off. Personally, I don’t want my wife coming home from church and meeting a motorcycle with a drunk driver.”
“It’s a controversial issue, and there are strong feelings on both sides,” Bowden said. “But even if we do get extra sales tax from Sunday sales, and while we aren’t getting any money now, I think it’s possible and even probable that we will have more DUIs and domestic violence incidents and it would have an impact on the cost of services.”
It wasn’t only the lost sales tax, Seth said. “You need to support existing businesses. All we’re asking is that you put it on the ballot and let the people vote.”
Several pastors were also present to voice their objections to having the issue put on the ballot. Lance Fuller, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church said he understood the desire to promote business, but asked the board to “not even put it on the ballot. You don’t get the calls at night saying, ‘Pastor, my child has been killed by a drunk driver.’ There’s never enough money to bring back that child.”
Pastor Michael Rogers of Bethlehem Baptist said there were 13 or 14 independent Baptist churches in the county, and while he had not spoken with all the members of each church, he felt sure the majority of the membership would be against Sunday sales.
“Sunday is the Lord’s day, and it should be kept as a special day,” he said.
“I understand that Lumpkin County is one of the last counties in the area not to sell alcohol on Sunday,” said Pastor Mark Biddy of Harvest Baptist. “That’s one of the things that makes Lumpkin County special.” From small compromises, he warned, larger ones often come. “Not everything needs to go to a vote. You were elected to represent the people of this county, and you have the say on whether this goes on the ballot or not,” he told commissioners.
“People who are going to drink are going to drink whatever day it is,” Debra Hunt rebutted. “The city and farm wineries can sell alcohol on Sunday, but the other businesses in the county can’t. All we’re asking is that you allow the people to have a voice.”
Both BOC Chairman John Raber and Commissioner Bill Scott agreed that people have the right to vote.
Raber said that personally, he was torn. “Even my prayer group members are split on this,” he said. “But I think we should let the people vote. But I can tell you that if this commission brings it up for a vote, unless I’m wrong it will be three-to-two against putting it on the ballot.”
The next regular meeting of the BOC is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. You can check the county’s Web site at www.lumpkincounty.gov to see if this issue is added to the agenda. Click on “commissioners” in the left-hand menu, scroll down to “downloads” and click on meeting notebooks to see the agenda.