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Mayor wants to revamp alcohol permits
City leaders to examine alcohol permits
Jim Thomas

Hinesville city leaders agreed to take a closer look at the city’s ordinance for alcoholic-beverage licenses during their annual planning workshop last week.

The issue was presented by Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, who suggested looking at the city’s ordinance regarding alcoholic-beverage licenses specifically to write more clarity into the ordinance about when to suspend or revoke a license, and whether it is feasible to combine some of the licenses.

 “The alcoholic beverage licenses we have are Class I, Class II, Class III and Class IV,” Thomas said. “There’s also a Class V, but that’s really for one-time events sponsored by nonprofit groups. Our licenses were developed as the city moved from more restrictive alcohol sales such as the old blue laws to more progressive alcohol sales.

“We want to take a look at those licenses and see if we can’t combine some of them. There is very little difference in the cost of a Class I license, which is a restaurant that happens to also sell alcohol — and a Class IV license, which is primarily a bar.”

During the workshop, Assistant City Attorney Richard Braun suggested that being able to open on Sundays motivates some Class IV-type businesses to get a Class III license. He noted that Class II and III license-holders are required to have at least 60 percent of their sales as food. A Class I license holder has to have 90 percent food sales, he said. A Class IV store only is required to have 15 percent food sales.

Councilman Jason Floyd said the problem is not the restaurant that just happens to have a bar; it’s the bar that claims to have a restaurant. In March, city-council members voted to revoke Island Vybes’ license after it became clear it did not have a restaurant, and its food-to-alcohol sales ratio was well below 60 percent. The business also was found have other violations.

City Manager Billy Edwards said there’s no issue with Class I and II licensed businesses. It’s the Class III and IV licensed businesses, he said.

“What we’re planning to do is take a look at the licenses, and combine them where we can, so we can disincentivize those businesses trying to get a Class III license when they’re really a bar, not a restaurant,” Thomas said, noting that even if Hinesville combines some of the licenses, the city needs to establish a legal definition of what it defines as food. “I believe we need that clarification. If we’re going to require them to have a 60 percent food-to-alcohol ratio, we need to define what constitutes as food, as opposed to horderves.”

He said such license holders also should be required to have a certified kitchen and a certified cook.

Thomas said city leaders need to sit down together and define the distinction between suspending a license and revocation.

“We normally don’t like to revoke a license,” he said. “That takes away their livelihood. But we have to have a system of suspensions in place with fines, so violators can be suspended for a period of time, so we can get their attention. A revocation is the last act. It requires a majority vote of the city council. We don’t want it to be an automatic revocation.”

Thomas said the newest part of the alcoholic-beverage ordinance regarding Sunday sales of alcohol was passed by referendum last November. That change allows grocery stores, convenience stores and package stores to sell package alcohol on Sundays, he said. However, most liquor stores have opted not to be open Sundays anyway. The city is not restricting package stores from opening Sundays, he said.

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