Leader Blues

Monday, February 16, 2009

TOP STORY >> Alcohol tax on the table in Cabot

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Will an extra tax be added to the alcoholic drinks served in Cabot restaurants? Area residents could help answer that question.

Aldermen Eddie Cook, Rick Prentice and Jon Moore, serving as the city council’s budget and personnel committee, met this week at the city hall annex to discuss a proposed ordinance adding a 5 percent tax to beer and wine, and a 10 percent tax to mixed drinks, the same ordinance adopted by Little Rock, Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Ward.

Sitting on the right-hand side of the council chambers were several members of the Lonoke County Republican Committee who were adamant that no additional tax should be charged.

On the left-hand side were Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, City Attorney Jim Taylor, Alderman Ed Long and Alderman Ann Gilliam. They were, for the most part, non-committal, but the consensus of those present was that more people need to get involved.

“This is too small a group for any big decision,” Gilliam said. So the public is asked to attend the next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 9, to let the council members know what they think.

Irene Webb, who opposes a tax, asked the committee if the purpose of the proposed tax was to deter restaurants from serving alcohol.

She pointed out that the private clubs at the golf courses in the city never have been taxed and she asked, “So why now?”

Cabot is in a dry county and has not had any restaurants open to the public that serve alcohol until recent months, when Fat Daddy’s and Kopan were issued private-club liquor licenses by the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams has fought those licenses, telling the commission that the city already has enough trouble with drunk drivers. Webb also talked about drunk drivers.

With no place in Lonoke County to get alcohol, Cabot-area residents go to Pulaski County. Cabot lost the revenue and gained impaired drivers.

“We have all these people driving up and down the highway spending money in Pulaski County,” she said.

Former Alderman Becky Le-master told the committee that the ordinance they were considering came close to “socialism.”

She especially resented the section that would require owners of restaurants that served alcohol to give a list of all their employees to the city.

“I don’t answer to the mayor with my employees,” Lemaster said, adding, “We have no business adding any tax in a downturn economy. People who are going to drink are going to drink. If you are going to tax them, they are going to Outback (in Pulaski County).”

Asked what the tax revenue would be used for, Prentice said it should be used for the police department. The mayor said the city will likely need money to help pay for a north interchange.

But since the revenue would not likely be high, Alderman Patrick Hutton, who sat with members of the Republican Committee, said administration costs might be more than the tax revenue.

Long said he had mixed feeling about taxing alcohol, but he agreed that the revenue would not be significant.

“It probably wouldn’t bring in enough now to pay for (City Clerk Marva Verkler’s) bookkeeping,” Long said.

He disagreed with opponents’ implication that a tax would keep other restaurants intending to serve alcohol from opening in Cabot. Some had said restaurants wouldn’t come to Cabot because of the city’s 1.5 percent hamburger tax, Long said, and they have come anyway.