Originally created 03/07/03

Increase in drink fees gets support



COLUMBIA - State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart hopes the Legislature increases alcohol licensing fees to help pay for more agents and equipment.

"We're spending three-quarters of a million each year on counterterrorism, which has been like another budget cut," he said. "If we don't get some additional money through fees, come July 1st, we'll be $2 million in the red."

Chief Stewart said higher fees for grocery and convenience stores and many restaurants would generate about $2.6 million.

The budget proposal before the House would increase biannual licensing fees for businesses serving only beer and wine to $600 from $400.

The same two-year license renewal for minibottle permits would jump from $1,400 to $1,600.

Retail liquor stores, which pay $1,200 every two years, and distributors, who pay $20,000 biennially, would each pay an additional $200 under the measure.

In addition, SLED asked for a $100 increase in the alcohol license application fees and a $50 increase in the local operations, or Sunday sales, permit fee.

Chief Stewart said state budget cuts during the past few years have forced SLED to reduce the number of agents statewide from 400 to 334, with most of the reductions visible in the agency's alcohol and narcotics enforcement arm.

Tom Sponseller, the president of the Hospitality Association of South Carolina, said the organization has not yet issued an opinion on the proposal.

Mr. Sponseller said it was hard to believe SLED meant to impose such a disproportionate increase, with distributors paying only a tiny increase relative to the smaller businesses affected.

"On a percentage basis, if that is what they meant to do, it would be out of line," he said. "I think it will meet with resistance."