The Watkinsville City Council voted unanimously last night to put a referendum allowing the sale of liquor by the drink in the city’s restaurants on the ballot in a special election on March 17.
The Council took the action after Mayor Charles Ivie informed the five council members and the public that he had concluded that the city could not determine precisely how city voters had cast their ballots in the county-wide referendum on Nov. 4.
City voters make up part of two of the county’s 13 precincts–City Hall and Annex–and those precincts voted 61.5 percent and 64.9 percent respectively in favor of the county referendum. The overall vote in the county was 65.4 percent approval of the referendum.
That referendum stated that voters were authorizing “the governing authority of Oconee County” to issue licenses for the sale of liquor by the drink.
State law allows cities to pass their own ordinance if “a majority of the electors voting in the county-wide referendum election who reside in the municipality” vote in favor of the county referendum.
Pat Hayes, chair of the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration, has said that she cannot separate out the ballots of Watkinsville voters from those of other voters in the two precincts because the question was not on the city ballot.
Ivie raised the issue of liquor by the drink in the city last night during his mayor’s report, as had been anticipated.
He said that efforts to get the exact vote figures for city voters from the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration had failed.
Council member Brian Brodrick said “Any way you slice and dice the number from the referendum, it is hard to imagine that a majority of voters in the city would not have voted in favor of this.”
In the City Hall precinct, 76.1 percent of the registered voters live in the boundaries of Watkinsville. In the Annex precinct, 33.5 percent of the voters are residents of Watkinsville.
Brodrick made the motion to call for the special election.
Mayor Ivie said the election, to be run by the county, will cost $3,500.
Timetable For Enactment
Patrick Lang, one of the owners of Chops & Hops restaurant, 2 South Main Street in Town Center, was in attendance, and he asked how long it would be before an ordinance could be in place.
Mychell Lang and Andrew Wallace, also owners of Chops & Hope, came before the City Council last month indicating their desire to be able to serve alcohol at Chops & Hops.
City Attorney Joe Reitman said an ordinance could be on the agenda for the April meeting of the Mayor and Council if city voters approve the referendum.
Patrick Lang said last night he wanted a “level playing field” in competing with restaurants in the unincorporated parts of the county.
The Oconee County Board of Commissioners is expected to take up an ordinance setting up licensing for restaurants in the county to sell alcohol by the drink at its meeting next Tuesday.
The county has issued 2015 beer and wine licenses to nine restaurants, many of which can be expected to seek alcohol licenses.
Before the mayor gave his report last night, the council approved renewal of beer and wine licenses for 2015 for Chops & Hops and for Mirko Pasta, also located in Town Center.
Council postponed until January the renewal of the license for Girasoles, 24 Greensboro Highway, when license holder Jose Zambrano did not appear before Mayor and Council.
These three are the only restaurants in Watkinsville with beer and wine licenses.
Before the Council took action, Mayor Ivie announced that the city will institute in January a new reporting procedure for each of the license holders, requiring them to report quarterly on the percentage of sales for food and for alcohol.
Both the city and the county require that no more than 25 percent of sales in restaurants with a beer and wine license can be for alcoholic beverages, but neither aggressively has enforced the requirement in the past.