Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Proposed liquor tax could drive customers away from Macon, local business owner says

Macon’s Reboot Retrocade & Bar has taken a bit of hit since parking meters were installed downtown, leaving its owners saying they are worried that a new liquor tax could compound that problem.

It’s been at least two decades since Macon-Bibb County’s alcohol code has undergone any major updates, but now a proposal is calling for changes that could not only impact businesses where alcohol is served but also customers. The updated code could have a new 3 percent tax on liquor sold by the drink and increase most of the alcohol license fees, along with a variety of other changes.

Reboot’s co-owner Jeremy Smith said he’s worried that the “pour tax” could deter some people from visiting the Cherry Street arcade and bar and other businesses. He said he knows of people who visit Macon from cities like Atlanta and Savannah because it’s cheaper to go out to eat and drink and see a show.

The new tax could put some Macon businesses at a disadvantage says Smith, who suggested commissioners wait until next year before deciding whether to charge it. The tax would just be on liquor sold for on-site consumption and would not impact beer or wine.

“I’m worried about when a customer gets a receipt and sees a 3 percent excise tax ... that they’ll go to other neighboring counties that don’t have it,” he said at a public hearing this week attended by more than 30 people.

Smith added, “I’ve seen my growth rate dip off the last four months since parking meters have come in and maybe this is growing pains. ... Let’s let everybody catch up a little bit.”

The proposed changes are being recommended by County Commissioner Virgil Watkins, who said after the hearing that he plans to have the “pour tax” voted on separately since it’s generated the most debate.

“There seems to be a lot of discontent about that but overall none of it really swayed my opinion,” Watkins said. “The best argument I heard is it creates more paperwork and people are going to cheat the system. I feel strongly enough about the research I’ve done and the number of cities and counties doing it throughout the state ... that I’m able to say (the tax is) quite commonplace.”

Watkins said some of the concerns he heard from business owners at the public hearing are causing him to recommend not having a large brewpub license fee increase, creating a cocktail bar license for distilleries and allowing nonprofit organizations to get alcohol licenses at a reduced rate.

The amendments, Watkins says, are designed to bring the alcohol code up to date by having licensing fees more in-line with other cities in the state and improve safety.

Another proposal is to have nightclubs, bars and other late night/early morning establishments that serve alcohol by the drink to be closed from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m. Currently, those businesses can stay open 24-hours although alcohol cannot be served after 2 a.m, causing some to have a “bring our own beverage” policy for after-hours.



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