Originally created 11/16/00

Restaurateurs fight higher fees



Small-business owners arrived en masse Wednesday to tell Augusta commissioners that proposed license fee increases were a slap in the face after their efforts to revive Augusta's downtown.

One woman was brought to tears, saying that restaurateurs are already too familiar with sacrifice, some working 18-hour days and paying themselves last if there is money left at the end of the week.

And some came to say that small businesses would be harder pressed to absorb the fee increases than corporate-owned franchises.

More than 100 people, primarily restaurant and bar owners, packed the Augusta Commission chambers and spilled into the hall Wednesday to oppose the business and liquor license fees that are proposed for the 2001 general budget.

"It singles out our industry. I feel that it is a message of a hostile nature," said Heinz Sowinski, owner of La Maison on Telfair Street.

"It is shocking," Mr. Sowinski said. "This city should be about small businesses revitalizing downtown. But this is not telling us that `We want to revitalize you.' This is really telling us that `We want you out of business.' How much more can you raise your prices to your customers?"

The new tax would have to be absorbed by diners and alcohol consumers in Richmond County, who would pay $5 for a glass of beer that now costs $3 and $8 for a shot of tequila that costs $4, said Tim Pirtle, owner of Honky Tonk Lounge on Gordon Highway.

The gathering was one of several public hearings that will be held before the budget is finalized and fee increases, if any, are approved.

"When you start trying to put the fees on one industry to balance anything, and I said that to (former City Administrator Randy Oliver) then that is a grave mistake," Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays said.

The budget proposes a 10 percent increase in the business license fee, which would provide the city with $177,000 next year. Also, an increase in liquor, beer, wine and adult entertainment license fees would provide $621,000. The budget also recommends an increase in bus fares and a 2 percent increase in the cable franchise fee.

Mr. Mays said he is vehemently opposed to the proposed cemetery fee increase.

"I want it on the record that I think that it is a inhumane way (to balance the budget,)" he said. "If you are going to increase, then you also need to increase on the beautification of (city cemeteries), too."

Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.