Unicoi board rejects removal of site distance requirement for off-premises beer sales

Sue Guinn Legg • May 20, 2019 at 10:40 PM

UNICOI — The town of Unicoi will continue to prohibit off-premises beer sales within 300 feet of schools, day care centers and churches.

A proposed ordinance amendment that would have lifted the mandatory minimum site requirement died at Monday night’s meeting of the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen for lack of a motion to approve the amendment on second and final reading.

The amendment, which would have put licensing of off-premises beer sales under the board’s discretion, was narrowly approved on first reading in February in a split 3 to 2 vote with Aldermen Jeff Linville and Wanda Radford opposed and Mayor Johnny Lynch, Vice Mayor Doug Hopson and Aldermen Kathy Bullen in favor.

Second-reading consideration of the amendment was tabled in March in lieu of a public hearing after Radford and Linville said they had received thanks for their opposition from town residents.

The public hearing was held in April and drew comments from four Unicoi residents who each spoke in favor of keeping off-premises beer sales at a distance from children.

On Monday, Hopson proposed leaving the distance requirement as is and the amendment died, as none of the aldermen responded to the call for a motion to approve.

Bullen, who proposed delaying the second reading vote in March, said at that time she personally felt the amendment would be good economic development but with “so many other things involved,” she wanted to hear more from town citizens.

Lynch said he had heard from people on both sides of the issue, including a former gas station operator who told him he could not stay in business without selling beer.

“People complain all the time that we don’t have gas in Unicoi. I see where you’re coming from. But there are two ways to look at it. It’s a tough nut to crack,” Lynch said at the March meeting.

In other business Monday, the board approved a preliminary budget of projected figures for the new fiscal year that included more than $2.1 million in total revenues, nearly $750,000 in total expenditures, $356,000 in debt service and a general fund balance of just over $1 million.

Bullen opposed the preliminary budget approval, noting it has been more than two months since the board received a monthly financial report and questioning where the preliminary numbers had come from. Interim Town Recorder Larry Rae said the numbers came from financial reports left by former Town Recorder Michael Borders, who resigned in April.

A budget work session to flesh out the numbers was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 28, at the Unicoi Tourist Information and Visitors Center.

When Hopson asked if the board will have “the hard numbers” for the budget work session, Rae responded “You’ll have what I have time to get together.”

Rae reminded the board he assists with the financial management of other towns and has also had a hospital stay. “I’m getting tired of this,” Rae said firmly.

The board met in a specially called meeting last week in attempt to expedite contract negotiations with a Borders’ replacement before the budget work begins in earnest.

The board approved the projected budget on Monday by a vote of 4 to 1 with Bullen opposed.

Also on Monday, the board unanimously approved the town’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget conducted by CPA David M. Ellis under contract with the state.

In a quick review, Ellis told the board in his review and opinion on the town’s financial reports for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, he found the reports accurate and in compliance with state requirements with the exception of findings that the town has since addressed through a plan of correction.

“As of June 30, 2018, you had a $1.2 million fund balance and not much liability, which is a good indication of financial health,” Ellisa said.

In observance of National Police Week, the board issued a proclamation recognizing and expressing appreciation to local law enforcement agencies and officers for their service, especially in their cooperative work to quickly apprehend a man charged in a recent child abduction.