Leader Blues

Monday, March 09, 2009

TOP STORY >> Cabot looks to tax alcohol at eateries

Leader staff writer

The owners of Fat Daddy’s, a catfish and steak restaurant in Cabot, didn’t know a tax on the beer, wine and mixed drinks they sell was to be discussed when the city council’s budget and personnel committee met last month, so they didn’t attend the meeting.

But they say they will be at the city annex at 6:30 p.m. Monday, when it will be on the agenda again.

The proposed ordinance, like the one passed in Little Rock, Fayetteville, Jonesboro and Ward, would add 5 percent to the cost of beer and wine and 10 percent to the cost of mixed drinks. It also requires restaurant owners to provide information to the city about all employees who serve alcohol.

Cabot is located 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, which serves Korean and Japanese food, were issued private club liquor licenses by the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams fought those licenses, telling the board that the city already has enough trouble with drunk drivers.

Kevin Elrod, who with his mother Karen Elrod owns Fat Daddy’s, said this week that Cabot police spend an inordinate amount of time parked across the street from his restaurant now that alcohol is on the menu. And he has been told that Lonoke County sheriff’s deputies have been ordered to stay away from his place while they are on duty.

Sheriff Jim Roberson says deputies who are eating elsewhere are doing so of their own freewill. However, Roberson said he appreciated that some of his deputies came to him about the alcohol at Fat Daddy’s and said they didn’t think they should be seen there in uniform.

“They’ve got a right to eat anywhere they want to,” the sheriff said. “Of course they can’t drink on duty. But as far as I know, this is a free country.”

The council members who attended the meeting where the proposed tax was first discussed said then that they needed to hear from more city residents.

Several members of the Lonoke County Republican Committee were there to say they opposed the tax, but the council members wanted to hear from those who supported it as well.

The Leader has been contacted by both sides of the alcohol tax issue, those for it and against it.

Nancy Cohea, a former candidate for city council, said she wanted to be sure the issue was promoted in the newspaper so people would be aware they need to voice their opinion. Cohea says she doesn’t drink and she supports the proposed tax.

Kevin Elrod said former Alderman Becky Lemaster, who opposes the proposed tax, told him it would be on the agenda Monday night. And he is telling his customers who seem to appreciate being able to drive a shorter distance for “a great meal and a beer.” Many have said they will be there, Elrod said.

When the proposed alcohol tax was first discussed, no one but Alderman Rick Prentice seemed convinced that it was a good idea. Prentice said the money could be used for the police and fire departments. The mayor reminded those present that the city needs to save money to build a north interchange.

But Aldermen Ed Long and Patrick Hutton, who do not serve on the budget and personnel committee, agreed that since the revenue from the tax would likely be small, the administrative costs might actually be more.