Two months after Sharp County residents voted to allow alcohol sales in the county, the first business has begun alcohol sales, and others are in the process of applying for permits. The Pig and Whistle Restaurant on Main Street in Hardy has begun alcohol sales under a private club license. The Walmart, Red Mule Convenience Store and In and Out Tobacco in Highland are among businesses seeking approval for alcohol sales.
The question of whether Highland city government should join the state in regulating liquor sales was the main topic of the Highland City Council's first meeting of the new year, on Monday, Jan. 7.
Cave City has already passed an ordinance regulating alcohol sales. If it passes an ordnance, Highland would become the second government in the county to seek revenue and, possibly, some regulatory authority over alcohol sales.
City Attorney Jon Abele presented the council with a document outlining the things the city could do above regulations and fees already in place by the Arkansas Beverage Control Board (ABC), the entity that governs the sale of alcohol.
Abele told council members the city can charge a permit fee of up to half of the fee the state charges for businesses selling alcoholic beverages. It can also place a five percent supplemental beverage tax on mixed drinks and beer and wine sales at private clubs.
When asked about regulating the time of sales, the attorney said he would not recommend doing so because such action would likely be challenged in court. Abele presented a sample ordinance for consideration, leaving the amount of the permit fees to council's discretion.
During discussion of the proposed ordinance, some council members expressed concern that too high of a permit fee would discourage business. Alderman Larry Allen said, "I would like to know what's changed. We have had private clubs ever since I lived here, like the Elks Club, the Country Club and the one on golf course. How is this any different?"
The city attorney explained that, previously, Highland had no jurisdiction to tax establishments. Those in the county must be taxed within the county, and the cities have the discretion to tax within the cities. Abele explained the issue was previously discussed in Cherokee Village, and the clubs said they could not afford the five percent. Allen asked if there was a fee for joining private clubs. Abele explained the law states clubs must be a non profit organization and must charge a $5 membership fee and maintain a bound book with sign ins of club members for ABC records.
Abele told the council, when a business applies for an alcohol sales license, the state contacts the mayor and chief of police of the city in which the business plans on opening. In addition, the county sheriff and prosecuting attorney are also contacted, and each has a right to object to the opening of a new business selling alcohol or an existing business beginning sales. He explained the businesses are also provided with a sign that is posted at the entrance of the businesses while they are in the application process, prior to the permit being approved. Business owners must post their intent to sell alcohol in the local newspaper. The public also has a right to object to the sale.
A few weeks ago, the ABC board informed Abele that they had sent out over 30 application packets to potential liquor store owners in the county, explaining the time frame for the actual application process for four full full fledged liquor stores will be set later. Currently, only private club, on and off premise beer and wine sales permits are being issued.
Abele said, if the council want to pass an ordinance, it needed to be in place by June, when the permitted liquor stores would begin opening. The Council decided to move forward with the ordinance as it was written in order to give business owners who have already applied for beer and wine licenses knowledge of the ordinance prior to them being issued permits later in the month.
A motion was made and seconded that council allow the city attorney to draft the ordinance for vote at the next regular city council meeting. The amounts of the permit fees were not decided but council will discuss this prior to passing the ordinance in February.
The next major topic on the agenda was a discussion about trimming the city's 2013 budget. City clerk Mary Wiles explained the city needed to take a significant amount out of the budget before final approval. The council decided to
meet with department heads, who are more knowledgeable their budgets and what can be cut than council members. The city council set a budget meeting for Jan. 21 to finalize cuts.
During the Jan. 7 meeting, Highland City Council members welcomed two new aldermen, Dennis Burton and Randy Hutchison, who took their seats after being elected in the November general election.
The Highland City Council meets the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at Highland City Hall and the public is invited to attend.