January 12, 2011 2:00:00 PM
FAYETTE, Ala. - Leaders in a west Alabama town are deciding what to do about complaints that liquor taxes in the formerly dry city are now too high.
A Fayette City Council committee will meet to consider making a recommendation to the full council on whether to change a fee on liquor sales that some say is excessive.
The ordinance Fayette voters approved in a referendum in 2010 calls for a privilege license fee of $2,000 a year, plus 15 percent of the gross receipts from the sale of liquor. The fee doesn''t apply to beer and wine sales and it''s collected monthly, like sales tax. In all, 24 percent is tacked on to the price of each bottle.
Liquor store owners and some of their customers have complained that the 15 percent assessment drives the price of liquor so high that people are still driving to Tuscaloosa County to buy liquor.
"We need to take care of our citizens," said City Councilman Cedric Wilson, a member of the committee, at Tuesday night''s City Council meeting. "They wanted Fayette to go wet. If they are not going to buy from Fayette, then it''s a waste."
Tommy Sickles, a local boat mechanic, agrees.
"I think it''s outrageous myself, 24 percent tax on hard liquor," Sickles said. "That''s ridiculous. You should be making a reason for people to come to Fayette, not go somewhere else."
Liquor store owner Larry Bowen said he''s seen his customers frequently take their bottles back to the shelf when he rings up the price with the 15 percent added on.
"They said, ''No, I can''t pay that. That''s 24 percent tax,''" Bowen said. "They''ll come in and buy the little stuff. The expensive stuff like Crown (Royal) or Jack Daniels, they''re not going to buy at that price. There''s been a many a one that''s walked back and put it back up."
But City Councilman Mike Hardin said Fayette modeled its ordinance after many other small towns that recently voted to legalize liquor sales. At Tuesday''s meeting, he referred to a chart that showed Sulligent, Centreville, Brent, Jasper, Guin and others charge a 15 percent gross receipts fee. Tuscaloosa charges 7 percent.
But in other cities, the gross receipt fee is included in the shelf price, Hardin said. Customers don''t know it''s being tacked on. He believes it''s a matter of perception.
"What we''re charging is what the great majority of towns in Alabama charge," Hardin said. "We''re not charging more tax than anyone else. We''re charging the same as most places."
That really isn''t important, Wilson said.
"We''re getting complaints from the citizens of this town," Wilson said. "That''s what concerns me - the citizens of this town."
Councilman David Brand asked if the gross receipts fee applied to Tuscaloosa County liquor stores outside of Tuscaloosa.
Fayette stores are competing with stores in unincorporated Tuscaloosa County near the Fayette County line.
Hardin replied that there was no gross receipts fee in the unincorporated county.
"That is a 15 percent difference we have to deal with," Hardin said. But he also countered that mayors of other nearby small towns are urging all of the municipalities to charge the same fee so that they won''t get in a price war.
Mayor Ray Nelson asked the committee, which includes Hardin, Wilson and Councilwoman Linda McCraw, to meet again and come up with a recommendation.
Bowen said he appreciates the council looking at the issue. He said they''ve been attentive to him and considerate.
"I''m sure they''ve caught a lot of flack about it," he said.
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