Wednesday, March 11, 2009

TOP STORY >> Booze tax dead for now

Leader staff writer

A proposed tax on the alcohol sold at two Cabot restaurants died Monday night in the city council’s budget and personnel committee. But the aldermen who voted unanimously to kill it also conceded that it is possible it could come up again at the council level if any member of the council decided to pursue it.

Alderman Lisa Brickell first discussed the possibility of passing a tax on alcohol in January during an all-day strategy planning session. So in theory, she could still bring an ordinance to the full council for consideration.

The turnout for the second committee discussion of the proposed tax was large with, for the most part, proponents seated on the left side of the city council chambers and opponents seated on the right.

Brickell, City Attorney Jim Taylor and Mayor Eddie Joe Williams did not attend the meeting, so they could not defend themselves against criticism for their part in bringing the proposed ordinance to the committee.

Former Alderman Becky Lemaster, who helped organize the opposition, read an account in The Leader of Brickell proposing the tax. Lemaster said the city attorney was out of line for providing an ordinance for the committee to consider before they discussed the tax. And she said the mayor bragged about having money in savings, so the city didn’t need to pass another tax.

“‘Discussion only’ means you’ll get him the information and you’ll let him know what to put in an ordinance,” Lemaster said of the ordinance that the city attorney gave the committee that called for a 5 percent tax on wine and beer, a 10 percent tax on mixed drinks, and the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of restaurant employees.

But the heaviest criticism came from Karen Elrod who built Fat Daddy’s, one of the two restaurants in Cabot that have been issued permits from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to serve liquor.

Elrod said the proposed ordinance was part of the mayor’s vendetta against Fat Daddy’s and Kopan, a Korean and Japanese restaurant. She pointed out that she had several supporters at the hearing late last year in which her alcohol license was approved.

But only the mayor and Police Chief Jackie Davis were there to speak against it. The mayor angered the board by calling members rude, uncaring and unprofessional, she said.

If the city really needed the tax from liquor sales, the country clubs would already be taxed, she said.

Elrod told the committee that business has improved since she got her liquor license. Tuesday night now is like Friday used to be, she said.

“We have had the ladies from the First Baptist Church; believe it or not,” Elrod said. “You would think that if the Baptists aren’t against us, the mayor would lighten up.”

Elrod said being able to offer alcohol means some customers who may have taken their families out of town to eat will stay in Cabot instead.

“There are a lot of people who like a beer with their meal or a glass of wine,” she said.

Neither of the two restaurants have bars and alcohol is only served with food orders, the owners say.

Aldermen Eddie Cook, Jon Moore, Rick Prentice and Tom Armstrong serve on the budget and personnel committee. Cook said after the meeting that the committee knew last month the proposed ordinance would likely be scrapped, but they wanted to hear from both sides before making it official.

Though the left side of the council chamber was full, almost no one spoke for passing the tax. Only one man, who did not identify himself, said voters should decide.

In the end, the fact that revenue would likely be low was an important deciding factor. The consensus on the committee was that administration costs would eat up any revenue from the tax.

However, Cook said one good thing that came out of the meeting was that the residents said that committee and council meetings should be posted on the city Web site as well as the agendas for all meetings.

“We as citizens should know what you guys are up to. And we shouldn’t have to go through a maze to find it,” Matt Webber told the committee.

Cook, who chairs the committee, said he would start working Tuesday to make sure they get what they asked for.

Cook also said that Elrod was mistaken when she said police cars park near her business on Hwy. 367 to harass her customers. The cars were there even before Fat Daddy’s was built, he said. They park there to catch speeders coming over a dangerous hill.

The address of the city Web site where more information will soon be available is