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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Cave City to attempt further restrictions of alcohol sales

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The police chief in Cave City presented an draft of an ordinance to the Cave City Council on Nov. 27 in an attempt to place further restrictions on alcohol sales within the city limits. Cave City and other townships on the south end of the county were the only ones to overwhelmingly vote to keep the county dry. The ordinance will be put before council Dec. 18.
In one of the most controversial ballot initiatives Sharp County has seen in years, residents were split on the Wet-Dry issue on the Nov. 7 ballot, with those who favored alcohol sales winning by a slim margin -- 3,884 to 3,456. The police chief in a Sharp County city who did not want the issue to pass has proposed putting additional restrictions on the sale of alcohol beverages in Cave City.

Cave City police Chief Aaron Presser spoke to a full house at the Nov. 27 meeting of the Cave City council, going over a 21 page ordinance he proposed to the council. The Chief said he does not want to take away anyone's rights but added that it is his duty to protect and serve the citizen's of the city, and he feels that an ordinance will help with the effort. While Presser favors a number of restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Cave City, it appears that very few can actually be imposed, since the state Alcohol Beverage Commission already has a wide range of liquor sale requirements and restrictions in place.

Presser told the council that his research shows that dry counties require one police officer per 501 persons, whereas that number goes up to one officer per 318 residents in wet counties due to higher crime rates.The city currently employs 3 full time officers. Presser said, based on his research, Cave City will need 5.9 police officers when alcohol sales are implemented. He said, considering equipment, cars, insurance, retirement and other expenses,the city will need to spend $62,000 more per year for law enforcement.

Presser said a representative of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board offered him advice on things the city could and could not do in regard to restrictions above and beyond what the ABC governs.

Presser's proposal suggests the city's license fees for establishments wishing to sell alcoholic beverages be set at between $5,000 to $10,000. ABC explained that would not be allowed because a city cannot make the license fees any higher than half what the ABC charges. Fees that ABC charges vary, depending on whether the business is an off site or on site business that sells just beer and wine, as opposed to a complete liquor store which offers all types of liquor. State fees do not exceed $425, which means the city could not exceed $212.50 for the highest of the licenses.

Alcohol and Beverage Control Board Director Michael Langley spoke with the Villager the day after the election and explained the manner in which the new low alcohol to be sold in the county.

Langley explained the number of full liquor stores allowed is based on a county's population. There can be one liquor store for every 4,000 residents. With a population of over 17,000, this equates to four retail liquor stores in Sharp County, which can sell all types of beer, wine and liquor. Besides liquor stores, there can be an unlimited number of on and off premise stores which sell only beer and wine. On premise means the alcohol must be consumed at the location in which it is sold, such as a restaurant or bar. Off premise indicates the consumer purchases alcohol to be consumed and must take it off premise.

Other restrictions the ABC already places on the retailers include not conducting business within 1,000 feet of a church or school, not including daycares. However, the 1,000-feet regulation does not apply to convenience stores, grocery stores and other establishments that sell only beer and wine. This was one of the restrictions Presser's ordinance was seeking to change.

There is no limit to the number of convenience stores and other businesses who want to sell beer and wine to go, or on premise businesses, like restaurants, who intend to sell beer and wine for consumption in the store. For those businesses, applications can be submitted immediately and licenses are expected to be issued around the third week of January 2013. Residents have the right to appeal the issuance of a license of a specific applicant.

The licensing process for the four liquor stores is much more involved and it is expected to be the summer of 2013 before the liquor store licenses are issued.

Langley said that, once a county has become wet, a re-vote to make it dry cannot occur for four years at the county level. He said individual cities can regulate the hours of sales but said that, from his experience, usually sets a city up for a constitutional challenge. Cities can have a special election between election cycles, but first must collect a petition with 38 percent of the city's registered voting population. While Langley said he did not recall an Arkansas city overturning a wet vote, Cave City residents discussed pursuing a wet/dry vote at the council meeting, if they can get the required number of signatures.

On Nov. 30, three members of the Cave City Council met in an unannounced meeting to refine language in the proposed ordinance including, according to Presser, the times of sale, penalties for violations, such as providing liquor to a minor, and ways to charge penalties.

Aldermen Ron Burge, Ed Turnbough and Richard Hawkins attended the private meeting. Presser explained that the meeting was held because a "committee was set up at the council meeting." No other representatives were present for the meeting, nor was the news media notified of the meeting. The meeting goes against FOIA guidelines set forth under section 18 of the handbook stating, "a group meeting of the members of a city council, even if less than a quorum, is subject to FOIA if members of the council discuss or take action on any matter on which forseeable city council action will be taken." Members of council are trained on FOIA guidelines and are aware that a minimum of two hours of formal notice to the news media is required before holding such a meeting.

Other topics discussed during the meeting, according to Presser, were lighting of buildings selling alcohol, proximity to schools, churches or daycares, as well as setting a policy banning carryout cups. Many of the regulations in the ordinance are already governed by the ABC.

Presser said, during the meeting, the group determined they could not further govern the sale near schools because the ABC already has regulations in place. The chief said the three council members agreed to change alcohol sales hours to 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Presser had proposed limiting sales to fewer hours.

Presser said, "The original intent of the ordinance was to limit the time of sales so the city could prevent the late night and early morning sale of alcoholic beverages within the city to prevent some of the crime that is associated with these sales."

The ordinance is set for a full council review at its regular monthly meeting set for Dec. 18.

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