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June 6, 2014

Business owners protest alcohol license increases

City Council reduces proposed fee bump

MILLEDGEVILLE — Local business owner protests led Milledgeville City Council's step down from significant proposed city alcohol license increases in the upcoming fiscal year budget.

Council agreed in Wednesday's budget work session to only increase beer and wine license fees $100 each for “retail packaged to go” and “consumption on premises.” Currently, 91 establishments within the city sell beer and wine.

If approved in its current form prior to the work session, retail packaged to go businesses would have paid an extra $875 for beer, wine and liquor sales permits. The alcohol license fees for consumption on premises included a $900 increase also.

Surrounding counties like Dublin, Madison and Warner Robins all charge fees similar to the original proposed city rate hike, according to city staff research.

Owner of The Brick Frank Pendergast didn't see a need to raise taxes on one segment.

“All I've seen thus far is just because we want to be the same as everybody else. Milledgeville isn't close to being the same as these other communities,” Pendergast said. “Trying to compare us to Warner Robins is ridiculous. Milledgeville isn't like any one else. We need to stop thinking like that.”

Aubri Lane's and Gringos owner Jason Medders said business has declined since 2009.

“We are struggling everyday to hold onto these businesses downtown. Every penny in the restaurant business particularly matters,” he said Wednesday. “These taxes would cause our prices to go up. It would drive people from coming downtown as often.”

Pendergast asked City Council what this proposed revenue of $30,000 from the original tax increase proposal would do.

City Manager Barry Jarrett mentioned that the city's general fund was $2.9 million short. The municipality uses water and sewer revenue money to balance the budget.

“That's a need for us to be prudent about everything we do,” Denese Shinholster, District 3, said. “People aren't going to be happy about what we have to do, but sometimes that's what it takes to get it done.”

Pendergast urged the city to avoid simply maintaining the current spending practices.

“If you add to the burden, you should be adding it to everybody not just businesses,” The Brick's owner said. “We've been paying our fair share, and I just don't see a strategy across the board to fix this deficit.”

Chris Howington, owner at The Velvet Elvis, said he wasn't opposed to a steady increase. Eating 33 percent more tax didn't sit well with any establishment representatives present Wednesday.

“But such a substantial one would hurt,” Howington said.

Boo Mullins, District 5, said a mild increase on beer and wine now would be better. He wanted the city to leave liquor tax hikes alone.

“One hundred dollars isn't going to make or break them,” Mullins said.

City resident Andrew Strickland said City Council should find somewhere to make a cut instead of putting the burden on businesses.

“I'm a firm believer in that until you guys show some restraint in the level of taxes that people pay and the method in which businesses are paying taxes we are going to keep singing the same sad song,” Strickland said.

Council will likely adopt the proposed budget after a public meeting at Tuesday's regular City Hall meeting.

 

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