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Posted: September 19, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Chamber surveys members on by the drink alcohol sales

To determine if referendum needed

The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce is surveying its members on whether alcohol by the drink sales should be allowed in unincorporated Newton County.

The chamber posed four questions to its 700-plus members: Should the chamber itself take a position on sales, should a public referendum be held, should sales be limited to restaurants, hotels and related businesses and should Sunday sales be allowed.

"Basically we were approached and asked to take point on the (issue of the) alcohol ordinance and getting it put into place. Because the chamber is made of members we don’t want to run point on something unless we know how our members feel," said Lisa Oglesby, with the chamber. She did not know when the results would be compiled.

Newton County allows retail sales of beer and wine, but not liquor retail sales nor by-the-drink sales of any form of alcohol. In August, the Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 against having a public referendum on alcohol by the drink on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Commissioners said at the time that they had insufficient information about the potential effects of an alcohol ordinance change to make a decision, and that they wanted to hold public hearings before deciding on whether to have a referendum.

The chamber initially supported a referendum based on informal input from members, but promised to conduct a more in-depth survey later.

Commissioners Mort Ewing, J.C. Henderson and Earnest Simmons voted against a referendum in August, but all three said they would be open to discussing the matter. Chairman Kathy Morgan, who was a strong proponent, said no discussions have taken place on the issues since that time.

"Regarding the chamber survey, I think it is appropriate to survey their membership. Economic development is a chamber function and I think they need to understand the needs and wishes of their membership in regards to all issues they consider," Morgan said.

A referendum could still be held during the March 15 special election planned for the 2011 SPLOST, but neither Morgan nor county attorney Jenny Carter knew when the commissioners would have to approve a referendum to meet the deadline for March.

Alcohol by the drink sales have been discussed periodically. The last public referendum was held during the 1998 General Election when 53 percent of 11,000 voters opposed drink sales.

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