District 1 Commissioner Bill Scott, supported by BOC Chairman John Raber, made the official request at the July work session.
“I’m asking my fellow board members to reconsider and put this on the ballot,” Scott said.
If one commissioner changes his mind at the July 17 meeting and votes to allow the issue to be placed on the ballot, the commission chair would be in a position to cast the deciding vote. Raber has already made it clear he would vote to allow the issue to come to the people for a vote.
Should the vote go in favor of putting the issue before the people, there would be time to place it on the November ballot, said Kimberly Pruitt, newly retired supervisor of elections. The referendum would have to be submitted to the Federal Department of Justice, the call put in the newspaper and be submitted to the Center for Election Systems by July 30 in order for there to be time to add the question to the Nov. 6 General Election ballot at no additional cost to the county.
“It’s going to cost the county $15-20,000 to hold a special election if it’s not on the November ballot, or we’ll have to wait a year-and-a-half before we can put it on the ballot without calling a special election,” Scott said. “And I can tell you now, if it’s not put on the ballot this year, I won’t vote to hold a special election. It’s too costly for the county’s taxpayers.”
Pruitt said she did include $15,000 in her 2013 budget request to cover the cost of a special election, should that be necessary. The next date a special election could be called is the third Tuesday in March, 2013.
Toby Stroefer and Seth Hunt, both of whom have spoken several times at BOC work sessions and meetings on the issue of allowing the people to vote on Sunday sales, spoke again at last week’s meeting.
“I’m asking you to support your local businesses,” Hunt said. “You talk about attracting new business, but you need to support the businesses that we already have. By not allowing Sunday sales to be voted o you are handicapping every business in Lumpkin County whether they sell alcohol or not.”
At previous meetings Hunt has told commissioners that many times people who stop in at his Turner’s Corner convenience store will leave other purchases on the counter when they find out they cannot purchase beer or wine.
Cheri Cowart, manager of the PetroFast on Georgia 400 and Burnt Stand Road told The Nugget she can confirm Hunt’s assertion.
“People do come in, at least two or three every Sunday, and leave stuff on the counter. They can go right across the county line, a half-a-mile down the road, and get what they want,” she said. “And a lot of people get really upset. I have signs on the coolers, but they don’t really see them.
“I really wish [the commissioners] would give us the option to vote on it.”
Alpesh Patel, owner of Jerry’s Superette on Highway 52 East, couldn’t agree more. He says he probably loses $400 to $500 just in beer sales on an average Sunday.
“The city and the county charge the same thing for an alcohol license—$1,000—but there are 29 days a year I can’t sell beer or wine. If the rest of the convenience stores can sell it, why not us? And the wineries, they have these big parties that last all weekend, including Sunday, and they can sell it. Why not us? We don’t have big parties,” Patel told The Nugget.
Eddie Pruitt, manager at Rooster’s Cafe on Highway 60, said he’s not sure how many people walk out because his restaurant cannot serve beer and wine on Sundays. Most of his sales come from food, he said. But he’s sure there is lost revenue.
“Based on our total sales, I’d say about $2,000 to $2,500 a month—not just in alcohol, but in food. People see the sign that we don’t sell beer and wine and turn around and walk out. They would have probably had a beer or two and some wings or a sandwich,” he said. “I’m in favor of the people being able to vote on it. [The commissioners]don’t realize the money they’re losing by not selling beer on Sunday. People are going to buy it in Dawson County if they can’t get it here, and they’ll buy their cigarettes, their gas, whatever, while they’re there.”
There are 21 businesses in the county who have alcohol licenses. Last year these convenience stores and restaurants paid over $152,000 in excise taxes from the sale of beer and wine. In addition, new licenses and renewal brought in $37,685 in 2011.
“The commission represents the entire county, and the only way the commissioners can say for certain what the people want is to let them vote on it,” Stroefer said. “Three personal opinions do not supersede 15,000 people’s right to vote. I genuinely respect the commissioners’ positions, but I hope they will reconsider.”
District 2 and 4 commissioners Tim Bowden and Clarence Grindle, two of the three commissioners opposed to putting the issue on the ballot, made no comment. District 3 Commissioner Clarence Stowers was not present at the work session.