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Athens City Councilman Harold Wales listens to questions from David Christopher, who favors legal alcohol sales, during the council's meeting Monday.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Athens City Councilman Harold Wales listens to questions from David Christopher, who favors legal alcohol sales, during the council's meeting Monday.

Impact of alcohol debated
Leaders from both sides of issue plead cases at Athens council meeting

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — Is Athens growing because it has alcohol sales, or could Athens continue to grow without it?

Those are the two positions proponents and opponents took Monday at the Athens City Council meeting. City voters will decide Aug. 14 whether to repeal alcohol sales. The city began allowing sales in December 2003.

Proponents David Christopher and Carl Hunt asked the council if it is a fair statement to say the sales tax growth is attributed to alcohol sales. City leaders said yes.

The city's sales tax base has increased by $1.6 million between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2006.

But anti-alcohol speakers Lifford Abernathy and Joel Glaze said Applebee's came to Athens when the city was dry.

"Wal-Mart is not hurting from no alcohol sales," Abernathy added.

Christopher said he sees a dry Athens as losing overall sales tax to cities like Huntsville that have more restaurants to offer.

"If a family goes to eat in Huntsville, then they decide to go by the mall or a movie and fill up with gas and get their groceries," he said.

Councilman Johnny Crutcher said that losing alcohol would impact overall sales tax to the point that the council would have to make budget cuts ranging from 5 to 10 percent.

"You've got to dance with what you've got," he said, "and we would lose some of our tax base."

Abernathy said he did not understand why the city is talking budget cuts when it is not spending the alcohol tax money, which is in a separate capital account and has accumulated about $600,000.

The council said the alcohol tax is separate from sales tax on alcohol and on spin-off sales of other products.

Hunt asked what would happen to businesses selling alcohol if the city went back dry.

Mayor Dan Williams said a wet city has never repealed sales.

"We would be breaking new ground," Williams said.

Councilman Ronnie Marks said that once the council certifies the vote, if the vote is dry, then sales would have to stop immediately.

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