Under the draft alcohol ordinance to come before the Covington City Council Monday, all employees of establishments that serve alcohol would have to submit to a background check and fingerprinting at the police department and pay an annual nonrefundable $50 processing fee.
The draft ordinance does not specify whether only employees that come into contact with alcohol as part of their job responsibilities, such as bartenders and servers, must pay the fee. Under the current ordinance, employees are not required to submit to a background check or to pay any kind of processing fee.
All city officials contacted for comment for this story emphasized that the ordinance was still only in draft form and likely would be amended before its final adoption.
News of the proposed $50 processing fee has already created a stir among Covington restaurant operators.
"Apparently the city of Covington is oblivious to our current economic situation," said Jim Stalvey, owner of Stalvey's Restaurant and Lounge, in a statement. "A fee such as what is being proposed in this ordinance would put an undue hardship on the employer and an even greater one on the employee. In the scheme of taxes, this may appear to be a small thing to the city of Covington but to employees that live primarily on tips day-to-day this is a very real large thing."
Covington City Attorney Ed Crudup, who wrote the first draft of the city's new alcohol ordinance after several meetings with the mayor, members of the city council and the chief of police, said the processing fee requirement was inserted into the ordinance at the request of the Covington Police Department.
According to CPD Chief Stacey Cotton, it is a common practice around metro Atlanta for employees at establishments serving alcohol to pay a processing fee and to submit to a background check. Cotton said the practice was put in place to bar individuals convicted of drug and sex crimes from serving alcohol to the public.
"We just don't want them to be out here serving the public. Sometimes, obviously, the temptation to do those other activities can crop up," Cotton said, adding "This is just a first draft and I don't know if this will end up being the actual ordinance."
While employee alcohol permit fee requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, in the cursory study conducted by the News, no other municipality was as strict in its processing fee requirements as Covington under the new draft ordinance.
In Conyers, only employees that serve alcohol - bartenders and servers - are required to submit to a background check. The annual permit fee they pay is also only $20, according to Trish Woodward, communications and records manager for the Conyers Police Department.
The city of Decatur requires that all employees whose job would require them to serve alcohol be fingerprinted and pay $35 for a liquor permit. According to the Decatur Police Department, that permit must be renewed once a year but the cost of renewing it is only $10.
"We fail to understand why a fee of this nature is being charged on an inconsistent basis with the cities that surround us," Stalvey said in his statement. "This situation could possibly make restaurants, such as ourselves, stop and assess whether it's even viable to have alcohol here."
Covington Mayor Kim Carter emphasized that the ordinance was still in draft form and would likely have some additions to it before receiving final passage. Carter said she would like to see provisions added that would bar mud wrestling, lingerie contests and other forms of adult entertainment in establishments serving alcohol. "The overall goal is to provide a happy compromise to all parties so that we all can operate in a safe community," Carter said, adding, "This is a working document."
Other highlights from the draft alcohol ordinance:
Pool tables, dart boards and other games will be allowed back in to establishments serving alcohol.
As enforced under the current ordinance, any establishment serving hard alcohol is not allowed to have pool tables, pinball machines etc., though establishments that only serve beer and wine are.
The draft ordinances makes no mention of bars or nightclubs though the city currently has at least one establishment operating as what would commonly be considered a nightclub and a handful of establishments operating, seemingly, as bars.
The only establishments specifically mentioned to be allowed to serve alcohol for on-site consumption are restaurants, private clubs and lounges attached to hotels.
The requirement that at least 50 percent of total sales from restaurants come from the sale of food also remains in place.
Restaurants serving alcohol will be required to file monthly reports with the city clerk detailing the total sale of food versus alcohol in their establishments.
"I have had no direction from anywhere to include in that draft permitting [for] bars to operate in the city," Crudup said. "The ones that ostensibly are bars still have to meet the requirement of food service and the percentage requirement and they are audited for that."
Retail sales of alcohol for on-site consumption will remain the same under the new ordinance with a cutoff at 12:45 a.m., Monday through Saturday, and a cutoff of midnight on Sundays.
The Covington City Council will consider a first reading of the alcohol ordinance at their next council meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, May 5 at the Covington City Hall on Emory Street.