• 57°

Council could revisit Sunday alcohol sales

The Bainbridge City Council will likely soon revisit whether to hold a referendum that would let citizens vote on allowing Sunday alcohol sales, several council members said this week.

The issue came up at the council’s Oct. 18 meeting, when citizen Kenneth Pearce asked the council to consider holding a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales. A 2011 state law now grants local governments the option to hold such votes.

Councilman Dean Burke made a motion to approve a resolution in support of holding the required referendum, but the motion died for a second.

Burke said this Tuesday he was “a little surprised” that no one else on the council seconded the motion, which would have caused the mayor to call for a vote among the council members.

“I would let someone else bring the issue up if it comes up again,” Burke said. “We hadn’t talked about [Sunday alcohol sales] beforehand, but I felt like it’s fair to allow people to make the choice.”

Councilwoman Roslyn Palmer said Monday she expects the council will reconsider whether or not to hold a referendum at one of its November meetings. She said she supports holding a referendum, but refrained from expressing a preference last Tuesday, in part because she wants to see how other local governments’ referendums go.

If the council decided to hold a referendum at either its meetings on Nov. 1 or Nov. 15, there might still be time to place the issue on the ballot of the presidential preference election scheduled for March 6, City Manager Chris Hobby said.

Other places will take vote soon

According to the Georgia Food Industry Association, 109 cities and counties are holding a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales on the ballot of the Nov. 8 general election. Albany, Savannah, Macon, Valdosta, Statesboro and Waycross are among the south Georgia cities which will hold November referendums on Sunday alcohol sales; Tifton, Cordele, Thomasville, Columbus, Camilla and Sylvester join Bainbridge as cities where no referendum has been scheduled yet.

Palmer, noting that the state law allowing local governments to hold the referendum was written by State Sen. John Bulloch (R-Ochlocknee), pointed out that neither Thomasville or Thomas County — where Bulloch is from — has approved Sunday sales referendums yet.

To Burke, however, other cities’ referendums — or lack of one — doesn’t impact the chance of a vote in Bainbridge.

“Each city has its own individual makeup,” Burke said. “I don’t think it matters whether or not [other cities] pass Sunday alcohol sales or not. But I do support polling our own citizens on whether they should be allowed. I don’t have a dog in the fight either way.”

Councilman Luther Conyers said he also expected the issue would come up before the council again. He said he supports holding a referendum, but had thought the council was just receiving information at its last meeting.

Councilman Phil Long agreed, saying he was surprised by the prospect of taking a vote last Tuesday. He supports holding a referendum but said city officials should get clarity on how the question to voters should be worded, in order to comply with state law.

There was discussion about Sunday sales of alcohol by-the-drink at local restaurants, at the most recent council meeting.

“It’s my understanding that would require a separate referendum, and whether that could be done at the same time, I don’t know,” Long said. “Those are the type of questions the council wants the city manager to research and come back to us with more information before we vote.”

If a referendum is held

The state law setting up the referendum process suggests the ballot question should read: “Should Bainbridge be allowed to permit and regulate package sales by retailers of beer, wine and distilled spirits on Sundays?”

Package sales would apply to liquor stores, convenience and grocery stores. Sales of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption, such as by a restaurant, would have to be approved by a separate referendum question.

If Sunday alcohol sales were approved, they would still only be permitted between 12:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., according to the state law. Local ordinance could be more strict on the hours of sale, but not less strict, according to State Senator Bulloch.

Currently, Bainbridge ordinance — which only applies to Monday through Saturday — says alcohol can be sold for on-premises consumption between 9 a.m. and 2 a.m. except on Saturday night, when the cutoff is midnight. Drinks have to be removed from tables by 2:30 a.m.

The sale of malt beverages (like beer) for off-premises consumption is allowed between 6 a.m. and 1 a.m. the next day, except for Saturday night, when the cutoff is midnight. Wine and spirits can be sold between 6 a.m. and midnight.

Unincorporated Decatur County has similar hours in which alcohol sales are permitted. However, it would have to hold its own referendum before convenience stores outside city limits could sell alcohol on Sundays.

Sale of alcoholic drinks on Christmas Day would still be prohibited by state law. Decatur County ordinance also prohibits alcohol sales on Thanksgiving Day.