UPDATE: Atlanta committee votes to hold off on legislation to increase alcohol license fees after outcry from restaurants
This story has been updated.
An Atlanta City Council committee on Tuesday shelved legislation that would’ve jacked up the fees for alcohol licenses in the city of Atlanta, following a show of force by restaurant owners and their advocates.
Grant Henry, with Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium, said in a widely distributed Facebook post that the licenses would increase from $5,000 a year to $15,000 if the ordinance is approved.
“Many small businesses will shut down,” he wrote. “Huge box stores will take over.”
Restaurateurs stormed Tuesday’s Public Safety & Legal Administration Committee meeting to say they were outraged by the proposal. The committee voted unanimously to “file” the legislation, meaning the legislation would not be considered in its current form and the process for creating it would have to start over.
Here is a copy of the ordinance. The ordinance does not have a listed sponsor and a spokesperson for the City Council said it came from the Mayor’s Office and he said the Mayor’s Office had requested the ordinance be held in committee at this time. Mayor Kasim Reed’s Deputy Chief Chief of Staff Katrina Taylor-Parks said the new licenses will not cost $15,000 saying that was a mistake. But she said the intention of increasing the license fees was to raise revenue.
“It started during the budget season when we were discussing options in the budget for revenue enhancement,” she said. “This along with other licenses and fees that have not been adjusted came up for discussion.”
Henry said currently he pays $5,000 for a license that covers beer, wine and spirits. The proposed ordinance would’ve broken that up into three $5,000 licenses – one for beer, one for wine and one for liquor.
“So they’re saying now it costs an extra $10,000 per bar to renew licenses, so I don’t think it’s legal,” he said.
Henry’s Facebook post also drew reaction from City Council members.
Atlanta City Council Member Felicia Moore said, “I’m on the committee and will be watching it closely. Notice should be sent. I asked if it had two weeks ago. I authored legislation requiring notice years ago. The rates are excessive, that’s why a study is required.”
City Council Member Alex Wan also weighed in.
“I, for one, am not supportive of the proposed increase,” he said. “I don’t sit on the committee it will be before this afternoon. We will have to see what they do, and if they move it, it will be before full council on Nov. 6.”
Councilman Kwanza Hall also showed up at the meeting to oppose the legislation.
“I think this isn’t one of those things we should try to rush through,” Hall said. “If we are going to look at our licenses, we need to reevaluate the entire situation.”
At the meeting, Georgia Restaurant Association CEO Karen Bremer blasted the idea, saying business owners had not been informed about it.
She said between 2011 and 2013, Atlanta had about 65,000 restaurant employees in about 3,200 locations. Today it’s more than 100,000 employees at 4,500 locations, meaning the city most likely saw an increase in revenue from alcohol licenses and other taxes.
“This is a jobs killer,” Bremer said.
She said the city showed “disrespect” to the restaurant industry, which she said is the city’s largest private sector employer. She said she first learned about the legislation from a car wash attendant.
“I would respectfully request when legislation is being proposed that affects the largest private sector employer in the city of Atlanta … that y’all contact us,” she said. “We will drop what we are doing. My job is to protect restaurants.”
Walter Jordan, with the Dogwood Restaurant Consulting Group, said the restaurant industry already give the city plenty of money in sales taxes, in addition to the license fees. He said the proposal would kill small businesses.
After the committee voted unanimously to recommend filing the legislation, Atlanta Councilmember Andre Dickens, the committee chair, advised the audience that just because the city council intends to file the legislation, it doesn’t mean it will go away permanently.
“This will be back in some form or fashion,” he said.
“We will be back,” a member of the audience shouted.
Editor’s note: This story was compiled by viewing a live video stream of the committee meeting.