Effingham County commissioners are going ahead with an ordinance that approves liquor by the drink in restaurants — as long those establishments make at least 55 percent of their profit from the sale of food.
And proponents of the referendum that led to the new law are not happy about it.
“On behalf of the voters, that’s the group that has to be held responsible if no restaurants come into the county,” said Charlie Kea, president of the Community Progress Council of Effingham. “There is no logic and reasoning whatsoever.”
The CPCE backed a referendum in the county, Rincon and Springfield to allow for liquor to be sold by the drink in those jurisdictions. The measures passed in each by large margins.
While the referenda didn’t spell out that the businesses that would sell liquor by the drink would have a 50-50 mix of profits from the sale of food and alcohol — Kea explained to the commissioners the referendum was based on state law — he believes that is what was expected in the ordinances. Springfield has passed its liquor by the drink law, with a 50-50 threshold.
“You have not represented the voting public,” he told commissioners of their stance to keep the 55 percent provision.
Kea told commissioners, who approved the second reading of the proposed ordinance by a 5-0 vote, that the 55-45 requirement would keep out restaurants looking to locate in Effingham.
“Do you think that 5 percent will make a difference?” Commissioner Reggie Loper asked Kea.
“Yes, I do,” he said. “On the marketability side, 55 percent is suicide for the county.”
Kea said the 50-50 rule is “vital” because Effingham is competing with west Chatham.
Kea said Chatham County’s only stipulation is for a 50-50 split on Sunday to allow for alcohol by the drink sales.
“We feel it puts us at a disadvantage with west Chatham,” he said. “If they can make 5 percent more in west Chatham than they could in Effingham, why would they come? I’m a businessman. I can see that.”
But commissioners were not swayed by Kea’s argument.
“I prefer that it is 55 percent, and I don’t think the 5 percent will make that much of a difference,” commission Chairwoman Myra Lewis said.
Lewis also said that more than 40 percent of the county voted in opposition to the referendum.
“So we have other people to think about,” she said.
But Kea countered that wouldn’t reflect the will of the voting public. The vote was approved by a 58 percent-42 percent margin in the county. It passed by a 61 percent-39 percent margin in Springfield and 71 percent of Rincon voters OK’d the measure.
“We are asking you to move to the interests of the voters,” Kea said. “You have an obligation to represent the majority. You are not disenfranchising the 40 (percent) you are referring to. The object is to honor the 60-70 (percent) that voted for it.
“There is no logical reasoning I can see why you would set it at 55 (percent). If there is a logical reasoning to keep it at 55, I’m sure the voters would like to know.”
Kea said having the alcohol/food profit mix would accomplish the goal of eliminating bars from opening.
“We ran the campaign around two issues, that of maintaining a family-friendly environment around the county,” he said. “We pushed for full-service restaurants. We described that the full-service restaurants would be regulated by the 50 percent of food sales. That’s what we campaigned on.
“I do know the general public responded to our campaign, and our campaign was to have family-friendly restaurants,” he said.
Kea said if the commissioners changed the ordinance to a 50-50 rule, it would be as “near a perfect” an ordinance as they could get.
Kea had four points to address with the ordinance, including the 55-45 stipulation. He also asked the commissioners to revisit their minimum distances between restaurants with pouring licenses and schools and churches. He also wanted them to tackle the dilemma of churches that open in strip malls and on the issue of churches opening near an existing licenseholder.
“The 50 percent is the absolutely most important thing you could change,” he said.
The CPCE would agree to moving the percentage to 55-45 later if it was determined that the 50-50 mix was a problem.
“The idea is to attract those restaurants, not discourage them,” Kea said.