Originally created 11/21/00

Fee rates go before city panel

A compromise over license fees reached last week between city officials and local bar and restaurant owners is expected to come before Augusta commissioners today at their full meeting.

The middle-ground agreement still raises the revenues collected from bar and restaurant owners who sell alcohol while largely appeasing about 1,400 petitioners who opposed arbitrary beer, liquor and wine license increases for their establishments.

But, if approved, the compromise also would shortchange the city's already streamlined 2001 budget by more than a half-million dollars.

"I don't think we really wanted any kind of increase at all," said Tim Pirtle, owner of Honky Tonk Lounge on Gordon Highway. "If we increase our revenues, the county can make more money anyway."

Mr. Pirtle was among a handful of area business owners who met with county officials last week.

Originally, the business license increases proposed by former City Administrator Randy Oliver included a 10 percent across-the-board increase plus increases ranging from $25 to $2,500 and from 40 percent to 900 percent for alcohol and entertainment-related permits.

But city officials and business owners agreed last week that the across-the-board 10 percent increase, plus another 10 percent increase on all alcohol-related licenses, would be agreeable.

"The 10 percent was the lesser of all the evils that was against us," Mr. Pirtle said.

Current license fees raise more than $1 million annually from alcohol and entertainment-related businesses.

The originally proposed increase would have collected an additional $623,300 from those businesses. The 10 percent compromise would raise only $96,055 more.

Revenues gained from business license fees offset city employees' salaries and spending in government departments.

"We were hoping we could get them to go a little higher," said Rob Sherman, director of the license and inspection department.

But because the business owners officials met with Friday were representing those who signed the petition, and because the petition said they could agree to only an additional 10 percent increase, that's where the compromising ended.

"It's considerably less," Mr. Sherman said.

But either way, license officials say it is imperative that commissioners approve a fee structure today, because Thanksgiving week has historically been when their office mails out renewal forms, which are due back by Dec. 31.

Mr. Sherman also will present a third proposal to commissioners today - one that falls between the original increase proposal and the 10 percent compromise; it would increase the alcohol license fees to match those in Savannah except in cases when Augusta's existing fee is higher.

On-premise and retail license fees would see increases of between $250 and $500, and wholesale licenses would increase $900 for beer and $600 for wine. The price for a wholesale liquor license - $5,000 - would stay the same.

The third proposal would generate about $1.3 million annually - $206,000 more than the current license fee plan.

"I don't know if that would be an option," Mr. Sherman said. "This is what we're going to present to commissioners tomorrow, and we'll see what we do."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.


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