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BOC works on alcohol ordinance
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The Newton County Board of Commissioners continued to revise a prospective alcohol by the drink ordinance last week, as the county looks forward to a 2012 vote on the issue.

Once the board comes to a consensus on an ordinance allowing for by-the-drink sales in restaurants and Sunday package sales of beer and wine, it is expected to pass a resolution calling for a public vote in 2012 on the two issues.

The issue that garnered the most discussion last Tuesday was where alcohol-selling business should be allowed to locate.

State law requires alcohol-selling establishments to be at least 300 feet from any church, school, alcoholic treatment center and housing authority property; 200 feet from any public library or 100 feet from any private residence.

District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing, who was absent, has opposed alcohol by the drink in the past and told county attorney Jenny Carter he would prefer all distances be increased to a minimum of 500 feet.

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said she had no problem extending the distance to 500 feet in all cases except for a private residence, which should keep its 100 feet minimum.

The plan is for by-the-drink sales to only be allowed in a few places in the county, namely future town centers in the Almon, Oak Hill and Salem communities and Stanton Springs industrial park.

The idea for many of these areas is to be mixed-use residential-commercial areas, so a restriction greater than 100 feet could be overly prohibitive said Schulz and District 2 Commissioner Lanier Sims.

Chamber President Hunter Hall said he would prefer to see the county follow the state minimum requirements, as that would make it simpler to recruit national chains used to a standard.

As of now, by-the-drink sales will only be allowed in tiers 2 and 3 of the Almon Overlay District and the town center in Stanton Springs. A process will be created by which other town centers can be defined and covered by the ordinance.

One of the last parts of the ordinance has yet to be finalized if the number and amount of fees. Sheriff Ezell Brown was asked to review the proposed ordinance, and he suggested some additional fees, including a $40 fee for fingerprinting, a $400 fee for background checks for the license applicant and a $50 fee for background checks for employees of alcohol-selling businesses.

Carter said she will finalize the fee schedule by the board's next meeting on Feb. 21.

The ordinance requires any restaurant, whether stand alone or in a hotel, to make between 50 and 80 percent of its revenue from food sales; this prevents the formation of bars which make the majority of their revenue from alcohol sales. Schulz asked how this could influence hotels, such as Embassy Suites, that have complimentary happy hours.

Carter said the ordinance does not allow drinks to be given away so that section would have to be changed. If the ordinance is changed, Chairman Kathy Morgan said the hotel could calculate the value of its complimentary breakfast and compare that to the value of its complimentary happy hours to meet the ordinance requirements. Schulz said she asked because Embassy Suites is looking at looking the Almon/Crowell Road corridor.