Sunday retail alcohol sales got the go-ahead Wednesday when the Augusta Commission approved, with a 7-2 vote, the second reading of an ordinance making the sales legal under existing retailer licenses.
Starting Sunday, consumers can legally purchase packaged alcoholic beverages at any retailer already permitted to do so the rest of the week – including liquor stores, which previously weren’t allowed to be open Sundays.
Commissioner Bill Lockett, who voted against a first reading of the ordinance last week, was joined this week by Commissioner Alvin Mason. Commissioner J.R. Hatney, who typically abstains from all alcohol-related agenda items, was absent Wednesday.
Before the vote on Sunday sales, Mason drilled Licensing and Inspections Director Rob Sherman about how much revenue the city might be losing by not charging retailers an additional fee to sell on Sundays, as it does restaurants that hold Sunday sales permits.
At $1,333 each, the price of a restaurant Sunday sales license, Sherman said the city could stand to gain some $260,000 in new revenue by charging Augusta’s 200 retailers the same amount.
“A quarter of a million dollars thrown away,” Mason said.
Sherman said the restaurant licenses were considered a regulatory fee under state law, as they require restaurants to maintain 50 percent of their sales to be food to be eligible to sell, while the retailers won’t require additional regulation or work on the city’s part when they opt to sell alcohol.
THE SUNDAY SALES vote prompted far less commission discussion than did a vote on whether to hire Mauldin & Jenkins to replace Cherry, Bekaert & Holland as the city’s external auditor.
With performance of the annual external audit required by state law, not hiring an auditor jeopardized all state funding, Finance Director Donna Williams said after a first vote to begin contract negotiations with Mauldin & Jenkins, the Macon, Ga.-based regional accounting firm, failed.
Several commissioners questioned why bid price and the firms’ hometowns weren’t considered by the selection committee that recommended Mauldin & Jenkins perform the audit.
“To say that a local company is not going to perform as well as an out-of-town company is a slap in the face” to local accounting firms, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles said.
“It’s the perception that something is going on, that something is not right” with the city’s finances, Lockett said.
According to its Web site, Cherry, Bekaert & Holland has offices in five Southern states, including an office in Augusta. Mauldin previously had an Augusta office, while the third qualified bidder, Serotta Maddocks Evans, is headquartered in Augusta.
Procurement Director Geri Sams handed commissioners the city procurement code sections specifying that contracts greater than $100,000 are beyond the reach of Augusta’s local vendor preference requirement and that price isn’t a factor to be considered until after a firm is chosen.
More than a year ago, Lockett raised the question of why Cherry had been the city’s auditor for 13 years, prompting a commission directive to put the service out for proposals.
By the time a choice reached commissioners Wednesday, however, time was running out for the audit report due the state later this year.
Williams took responsibility during an earlier meeting of the commission’s Pension and Audit Committee for not providing procurement technical specifications for a request for proposals until earlier this year.
According to a bid tabulation sheet, all three firms scored between 94.3 and 97.4 points out of 100, with Cherry scoring highest with the selection committee.
While the other firm’s price estimates haven’t been opened, according to procurement procedures, Mauldin’s proposal gave a maximum 2011 audit price of $185,000, excluding preparation of a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or separate reports for individual government units.
ALSO HOTLY DEBATED Wednesday was the commission’s 6-3 decision for staff to present a negotiated contract with human resources outsourcing firm Automatic Data Processing, which has an Augusta call center.
The move defied a recent commission retreat decision to hire consultant Malik Watkins to evaluate the city HR department.
“I knew before we came into session that this was a done deal,” said Lockett, who was joined by Mason and Commissioner Corey Johnson in opposing the measure.
Bowles said he was floored when ADP, which already handles some city benefits, reported that city HR staff tried to have the city to pay for an employee’s court-ordered alimony payment for health benefits to an ex-spouse.
“I can’t sit by and watch illegal activity be conducted,” Bowles said.