Originally created 08/29/06

Commission might raise license fees



Bar owners might need a stiff one after they buy their alcohol licenses, and business owners might think they're getting the business when they buy their licenses next year.

An Augusta Commission committee approved a 5 percent increase in alcohol licenses and a 10 percent increase in occupation taxes, regulatory fees and business taxes for professionals Monday.

The commission will consider the public services committee's recommendations at its next meeting Sept 5.

Committee members cut in half the initial proposal to raise all categories of alcohol license fees 10 percent.

Alcohol and business license taxes were last increased 10 percent in 2000.

Currently, the fee for consumption-on-premise liquor licenses is $2,750. The consumption-on-premise beer fee is $500. Retail package liquor licenses cost $2,750, and licenses for Sunday sales cost $1,100.

"This is driven by the budget," said Rob Sherman, the license and inspections director, in proposing the 10 percent alcohol license increase. "We're looking for additional sources of revenue where we think it would be fair to increase the fee."

A comparison of Augusta's alcohol license fees with other places in the state showed that those in Columbus and Columbia County are lower than Augusta's, while fees in Savannah and Athens are higher, Mr. Sherman said.

Commissioner Andy Cheek said the Richmond County Board of Health had just increased its fees.

"My concern is, while we do need to recover some of the costs, we don't need to pile on what I consider a major adjustment by the board of health," Mr. Cheek said.

Commissioner Joe Bowles agreed: "What I understand from business is they would much rather see a 1 percent increase, or something, a year than hit them every five years with a 10 percent increase

"I just think we are hitting businesses and these entrepreneurs too much at one time with all these increases, and I think it's going to become an unfriendly environment to do business in Augusta if we continue," Mr. Bowles added.

City Administrator Fred Russell reminded the committee of the city's serious budget crisis.

"We can continue not to raise," Mr. Russell said. "We can continue to be concerned about our businesses as we should, but we can't continue to manage dollars at a 2000 level when it's 2006.

"It costs us more to do the inspections. It costs us more to do the things that we do. I greatly recognize what you're saying, that we need to be business-friendly. ... But as you look at these issues over the next several months, be cognizant of the fact that that's the only way that we can do business, to continue to keep pace with the costs."

Mr. Cheek and Commissioners Don Grantham and Calvin Holland voted for the 5 percent alcohol license increase, and Mr. Bowles voted against it.

All four committee members voted in favor of the 10 percent increase on business licenses and regulatory fees, though.

Regulatory fees are paid by businesses the city has to regulate, such as adult entertainment venues, flea markets, fortune tellers and massage parlors.

In other action Monday, the administrative services committee voted to declare a moratorium on demolition of buildings in the Olde Town Neighborhood until Jan. 1, except for those specifically approved by the commission.

The Olde Town Neighborhood is moving toward designation as a local historic district and needs the moratorium to prevent unwanted demolitions before getting the designation.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

Proposed 5 percent increases in alcohol license fees and 10 percent business taxes, regulatory fees and business taxes for professionals will go before the Augusta Commission at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the municipal building, 530 Greene St.