In a sometimes testy and contentious meeting, Rincon City Council approved the first reading of a revamped alcohol ordinance.
The new statutes will bring all of the city’s laws regarding alcohol into one law — including the sale of liquor by the drink. Rincon residents overwhelmingly approved a referendum asking the city to allow liquor by the drink sales.
But referendum proponents are dismayed the city council will require restaurants to have at least 55 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of food and non-alcoholic beverages instead of at least 50 percent.
Community Progress Council of Effingham president Charlie Kea said the current stipulation hurts the community’s marketability. He also said the state has defined full-service restaurants as those with at least 50 percent of their profits from food sales.
“In looking at the counties around, the number one competition is west Chatham,” he said. “When you set it at 55 percent, you set the competitiveness against us and not for us. The fact is we are competing with west Chatham, which has no limit.”
Kea issued a concern that full-service restaurants would locate between the Effingham-Chatham county line and I-95 and then not look at Effingham County.
Council member Ken Baxley pressed Kea on how many family-friendly restaurants that have at least 45 percent of their sales from the sale of alcohol.
“We campaigned for full-service restaurants,” Kea said. “We wanted Effingham County to remain family friendly. The opposition ran a ‘no bars’ campaign against us, and we had more in common (with them) than they realized.”
Kea said if the standard was set at 50 percent, the community stands a better shot at getting full-service restaurants. He interpreted the vote as a mandate to do everything in their power to make Effingham County competitive.
That generated a sharp exchange with Baxley.
“Fifty percent sounds like a bar to me,” Baxley said, “especially if you sell that much alcohol.”
Said Kea: “If I qualify as a full-service restaurant, I’m not a bar. We said we wanted to be marketable.”
“I think we’re marketable,” Baxley retorted.
Kea also told council members they weren’t following the will of the people. The referendum passed 911-380, and Kea said anything but the minimum state requirement fails the voters.
“The people have spoken and they have indicated they want full-service restaurants,” he said.
Debbie Walker said not having the requirement at 50-50 could mean a loss of sales tax revenue to west Chatham and Port Wentworth if full-service restaurants go there first.
“There is no excuse for us to pass tax dollars to west Chatham,” she said. “We voted to have full-service restaurants. Don’t make a law that will make us less competitive than our neighbors.”
Diane Dunn chastised the council members for sticking to the 55-45 rule.
“The numbers show what the people want,” she said. Why don’t you do the job and do what the people ask? You represent us. I’m tired of Rincon and Effingham County being a laughingstock.”
Chatham County’s ordinance requires businesses selling alcohol to be at least 100 yards away from a school or church and has a stipulation for Sunday alcohol sales requiring at least 50 percent of profits to be made from food sales. Statesboro’s ordinance also has a 50 percent rule for selling mixed drinks, as does Bulloch County’s.
But council members also found supporters for their stance in attendance Monday night. Bill Ross said he supports the ordinance the way it is written and those targeted restaurants won’t come until Effingham County’s population reaches a certain threshold.
“Eventually, we’ll get the restaurants,” he said. “The simple realization is they won’t come until we have the people.”
Corey Exley, a lifelong resident of the county, also backed the council’s stance.
“I feel people come here for a reason,” he said. “I’d appreciate it if you keep it the way it is.”
Council members unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance. The proposed law also spells out hours when alcohol can be sold for on-premises and off-premises consumption. It also covers the distances between businesses selling alcohol and churches or daycares, license fees and other eligibility requirements for pouring licenses, such as the number of seats and the inclusion of a full kitchen.