Some people want to buy beer early in the day for reasons of convenience; others need it, and for all the wrong reasons.
That was the case argued Thursday before the three City Commissioners present voted 2-1 on second reading in favor of an ordinance to allow off-premise license holders to start selling beer at 8 a.m. on Sundays.
Mayor Jeff Banyas and Commissioner Jane Myron voted for the measure. Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin opposed the move. Vice Mayor Phil Carriger and Commissioner Clayton Stout were not in attendance.
“Do we offer people ample time to purchase alcohol? Yes we do,” Van Brocklin said before the vote.
He then told a story of a woman on whom he had operated, and that as an oral surgeon the fact that she had been intoxicated before suffering severe injuries had stuck in his mind and he could not in good conscience vote in favor of the ordinance. He also said any new revenues from earlier sales would be negligible.
Jennifer Berven, with the Washington County Anti Drug Coalition, presented commissioners with some fact sheets on alcohol use and made her plea.
“Businesses that sell alcohol and beer are some of the few that have flourished in the economic downturn,” Berven said. “Sales of alcohol and beer are one of the few tax revenue streams in Tennessee that have actually increased over the past several years. In other words, this (ordinance) is to benefit an industry that is not struggling at this time.”
While it may be a benefit to a few owners in choice locations with hours that would benefit from increased sales, it could be a detriment to other neighborhoods who already have little reprieve from alcohol “density” and hours of sale, she added.
For years, the argument to establish earlier sales was largely based in the fact that businesses located near Sullivan County and the Bristol Motor Speedway were losing dollars to nearby stores located just across the county line.
City Manager Pete Peterson explained that several businesses had requested the action. He also said that when these stores lose revenues, the city loses out on tax revenues. When the off-premises license holders cannot start selling beer until noon, which is how the current city ordinance reads, it results in the loss of sales and revenues to Johnson City’s corporate citizens and its tax collections, he said.
Myron said it was sad that some families have to deal with alcoholism. But she also said she remembered when commissioners voted to approve liquor by the drink and that had not resulted in any drastic negative changes.
“I hate to lose the revenue,” she said. “I’m probably more concerned with drug use here. It’s rampant. Maybe we ought to concentrate on that.”
Banyas, who was not present for the first reading, offered a short conclusion.
“We already sell beer on Sundays, so what we’re debating here is time.”
A third and final reading is set for Sept. 1.
Commissioners also voted to reject a more than $208,000 TDOT Enhancement Grant for the restoration of the historic Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio Depot, which would have been used to stabilize the 102-year-old building for future use.
In March, the Johnson City Development Authority Board unanimously voted to recommend that the city reject the grant. The board also recommended that any outstanding applications be rescinded, which was also approved.
Peterson said the grant amount, which would have required a match, was not enough to properly repair the structure’s roof and other sections of the building.
The grant cannot be used by the city for another purpose, but commissioners agreed that when TDOT is officially notified of the rejection that Jonesborough’s interest in moving the station there be considered as an option.
A Sevierville attorney has placed a 90-day option on the depot, with the possibility of purchasing the historic property and developing it into a brewery. The JCDA, the depot’s owner, entered into an option agreement with Joseph A. Baker earlier this month.