The Newton County Board of Commissioners continued to work on an alcohol ordinance to allow for restaurant sales of alcohol, but the question of how close alcohol can be sold to churches, libraries and schools remained unsolved Monday.
The state minimum requires alcohol-selling establishments to be at least 300 feet from certain buildings, but Commissioner Mort Ewing requested previously the county have a stricter minimum of 500 feet.
Commissioner Nancy Schulz said Monday that a 500-foot minimum could cause issues in the Almon and Salem road corridors, which are two areas being considered for alcohol sales. By-the-drink alcohol sales will not be allowed county wide. However, the ordinance would also affect package sales, which are allowed county wide; they currently follow the 300-foot state minimum.
The presence of Shiloh United Methodist Church off Almon Road and Salem United Methodist Church and Salem Camprground off Salem Road could block large sections of those corridors from housing restaurants and limit development, Schulz said. For perspective, Chairman Kathy Morgan said a block on the town square is about 600 feet.
Schulz said she spoke with former state Rep. Denny Dobbs played a part in developing the state minimum and actually used a local circumstance to set the law. Schulz said he measured from Shiloh United to the Rock Store and realized the store couldn't sell alcohol if the requirement was greater than 300 feet.
However, Ewing said he still supported more stringent regulations.
"I feel that the churches and public libraries in the county are very important of the structure of Newton County, and I would just hate to see us give in for a commercial facility that would be serving alcohol within 500 feet from a church or public library," Ewing said.
Morgan said that limiting by-the-drink alcohol sales to a handful of more dense areas in the county was already restrictive.
When asked, Attorney Jenny Carter said the board of commissioners could put in a variance process that would allow businesses to locate closer than the 500 feet in special circumstances.
As an example, R.L.'s Off the Square in Covington had to get a waiver because it was too close to First Baptist Church, Morgan said.
A business could never locate closer than the 300-foot state minimum. The county could also have different distance regulations for package sales and by-the-drink sales, Carter said.
The distance is measured from the main entrance of one building to the main entrance of another building.
Morgan said she would have the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) department develop a map that would show how different distance measurements would affect potential development.
The board also discussed alcohol fees. Commissioner Tim Fleming said he had received calls from business owners and a state lobbyist who lives locally who questioned the sheriff's office background check costing $400.
The fee was based on the eight hours of work and was charged at an overtime rate as the work would be on top of current duties. Carter said overall fee costs were compared to other counties, but they were not broken down on an individual fee basis.
County Manager John Middleton said that business owners have proven they are willing to annex into cities and pay additional thousands of dollars in property taxes on top of paying thousands more for an alcohol fee.
The fees are currently proposed as $1,300 total for the right to sell package sales and $5,650 for the right to sell alcohol by the drink.
Sunday sales too?
Chairman Morgan said the board has three issue before it: by the drink sales, Sunday by the drink sales and Sunday package sales.
The board would have to approve an ordinance by April 3 in order to meet the deadline for a July vote, while it would have until summer if it wanted to put the referendums on the November ballot.