Commission takes up liquor measures

Privilege tax, sale hours debated
Nov. 28, 2012 @ 01:13 PM

The contentious issue of liquor by the drink dominated the first part of Tuesday's city commission meeting. Liquor by the drink was approved in a Nov. 6 referendum, but some voters complained of irregularities, and opponents are contesting the outcome.

At the beginning of the meeting, the floor was opened to public comments. Comfort Inn & Suites owner Ken Maples spoke in favor of liquor by the drink. He did so on behalf of about 20 people, who sat in the back of the meeting room and wore Forging Ahead stickers. "We're ready to move forward," he said.

On the meeting agenda were the first readings of two liquor-related ordinances. One, number 953, would establish a privilege tax on businesses selling liquor and wine. Yearly amounts would range from $300 for private clubs, theaters and museums to $1,000 for hotels and large restaurants.

"Where does the money go?" asked commissioner Randal Robinson. "Isn't it supposed to be for the schools? If we collect a liquor tax, shouldn't it go to the schools?"

"This isn't a liquor tax that goes to the schools," replied Mayor David Wear. "It's a privilege tax."

The ordinance passed on first reading by a vote of 3-2. Commissioner Joyce Brackins voted for it, along with Wear and Vice Mayor Kevin McClure. Robinson and Commissioner Howard Reagan voted against it.

Next was ordinance 954, which declares that state law, not city ordinances, governs the hours of liquor sales and the age of people who serve liquor.

State law allows liquor to be sold until 3 a.m. After the referendum, Wear told The Mountain Press that he would like the city to cut off liquor sales at midnight, if it can. But city attorney James Gass told the commission Monday that he isn't certain the city can limit the hours of liquor sales.

"We are looking at the possibility," he said. "I can't say for sure that we can opt out (of the 3 a.m. cutoff). Maybe not. But if an establishment is licensed by the state for the sale of alcoholic beverages, we don't control them."

Gass said he is working with representatives of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission to learn more.

"We are approving sales till 3?" asked Robinson of ordinance 954.

"This simply sets it for another reading," said Gass. "I want to have a representative of the ABC here to talk about the regulations, so you as a board can ask questions." In the meantime, he said, he would look into the option of limiting hours.

"You can still oppose on second vote," said Gass.

"Why wasn't this information given to us before the first vote?" asked Robinson.

"We need to get the first reading in place," said Wear. "Then we do due diligence."

The ordinance passed on first reading by a vote of 3-2. Robinson and Reagan voted against it.

The commission tabled a measure that would grant an additional $15,700 to the Knoxville engineering firm CDM Smith for the traffic signal at Music Road and the Parkway.

In other business, the committee approved:

- Change orders to Progression Electric for the traffic signal at Music Road and the Parkway

- The paving of Tiger Drive

- Replacing the pump base at the Middle Creek Lift Station

- Extrication equipment for the Fire Department

- A utility vehicle and a triplex reel mower for the Parks and Recreation Department

- A tree grant from the state Division of Forestry, along with a matching city grant

- Donating library books to the Friends of the Pigeon Forge Public Library

- Naming Greg Nichols to the Tree Board

- A name for the new street from the Parkway through the Island to the city's parking lot: The Island Drive