Commissioners to consider 10 percent fee increase

Fees to sell and serve alcohol, operate a business and practice a profession could be going up if a proposed 10 percent increase is approved by Augusta commissioners today.

The city's public services committee will take up the increases, which would generate an additional $353,000 annually. If the proposal makes it out of committee, final approval by the full commission could come next week.

The amount would be a help, but nowhere near the fix needed to fill the $9 million deficit in Administrator Fred Russell's 2011 budget that commissioners passed last week.

A restaurant that serves beer, wine and liquor on premises, for example, would see annual license fees go from $4,235 to $4,658. If the restaurant sells liquor on Sunday, the proposed fee goes to $5,445.

Georgia cities and counties vary widely in their implementation of alcohol license fees. In Columbus, the same restaurant would pay $2,800; in Athens, $5,529; in Macon, $2,864 and in Savannah, $4,645. Columbus and Athens also levy additional taxes based on prior-year sales.

In Columbia County, the same restaurant pays $2,500 to $5,000, depending on its occupancy.

Also on the table in Augusta are increases in business license fees, which would raise the amount on a grocery store with annual gross income of $28 million and 60 employees, for example, from $3,104 to $3,414.

That same grocery would pay $2,250 in Columbia County, $1,878 in Athens, $8,539 in Savannah and a whopping $28,050 in Columbus, where voters enacted a freeze on property taxes.

Also due for fee increases under the proposal are street vendors, taxicab operators, fortune tellers, exotic dance establishments and other entertainment venues, as well as occupational taxes for professionals.

But Commissioner Jerry Brigham, the chairman of the public services committee, said he thought the 10 percent increase was unlikely to pass.

"I suspect something may pass, but I don't know 10 percent will pass," Brigham said.

The city's license and inspection department, which provided the comparison data, was asked to investigate fee increases earlier this year, he said.

The commission's public safety, public services, administrative services, engineering and finance committees meet today, starting at 12:45 p.m. in commission chambers.

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