Live Oak —
The Live Oak City Council voted Tuesday night on the first reading of an ordinance to amend existing law in order to allow alcoholic beverages to be purchased or consumed on Sunday.
If approved, the measure would allow conforming, properly licensed businesses to sell alcoholic beverages seven days a week from 7 a.m. until midnight. The county voted Nov. 20 to extend the hours of alcoholic sales from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Saturday, including hard liquor. Chairman Adam Prins said the city should match their ordinance. The first amendment drafted by Live Oak Development Manager George Curtis imitated the county’s amendment, allowing alcoholic sales and consumption from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. the following day, Sunday through Saturday, excluding hard liquor on Sunday.
Prins asked, “Why are we going to force people to not spend their money in the city and spend it in the county?” His concern is that local business owners would seek to move their business out of the city or future entrepreneurs would prefer to open their business in the county due to lesser restrictions.
One of the restrictions Prins referred to was the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday. For years, the purchase of alcoholic beverages on Sunday has been prohibited.
“Churches aside, from a business and the city’s standpoint, I think it behooves us to support our businesses,” Prins said. “And if we’re going to allow them to sell beer, I don’t understand why the sale of liquor would be an issue.”
Councilor Bennie Thomas added, “Some will look at Sunday as the Sabbath day, but there’s some churches reserve Saturday as the Sabbath day, so I don’t see a difference.”
Prins said his main objective is that he didn’t want to undercut businesses.
“I don’t want to push businesses into the county and put our businesses at a disadvantage,” he said. Thomas agreed that businesses in the city have too many restrictions.
“If I could, I would pick my funeral home up tonight and move it into the county,” he said. “That’s why we don’t have any mom and pop businesses is because we’ve ran them out of the city. There’s just too many restrictions.”
“We have bad streets, bad roads, need sidewalks, but yet we gonna send our business to the county,” Thomas continued. “Every little bit is a help. We can’t reach out to the government for help all the time. We’ve got to help ourselves.”
Councilor Jacob Grantham asked Thomas, “Have you looked at it to see how much tax money we’ll be getting?”
Grantham told Thomas the amount received from alcohol sales would be very minimal.
Board members John Yulee and Keith Mixon were in favor of allowing sales on Sunday, but did not want to extend the hours until 2 a.m.
“I will not support anything after midnight on any given day,” Mixon said. “I’ve ran a lot of Holiday Inn’s that had lounges and said they had far less problems and incidents when they closed at midnight than when they stayed open until 2 a.m.”
From a safety standpoint, Live Oak Police Chief Buddy Williams opposed extending the hours until 2 a.m.
“As far as Sunday sales goes, I don’t have an issue. But when we start trying to give additional hours, that’s when the trouble begins,” Williams said. “Just in one location in the city, when the hours were until 2 a.m., in a six year time, the Live Oak Police Department responded there 964 times. In the present time since where we have been closing the bars at midnight, it’s been less than 30 times. Guys, there’s a difference when you go from 12 to 2."
Williams noted a national statistic that traffic crashes increase 66 percent when alcohol is involved.
“The calls for service get out of hand. And when you’re dealing with two, maybe three officers, it’s tough,” he said.
Williams informed the board that he has had many discussions with Suwannee County Sheriff Tony Cameron regarding this matter, and said that Cameron wasn’t even asked his opinion when this decision came before the county commissioners.
“I understand making a dollar. I understand trying to make this city flourish,” he said, “but there’s none of this is worth the safety of a policeman or the safety of any one of our family members on the roadways after midnight. I love this city. I’ve lived here all my life and I want it to grow, but it’s got to grow the right way and we’ve got to do it together.”
After further discussion, the council voted 3-2 to amend the ordinance that regulates the hours of sales and consumption of alcohol to allow sales on Sundays, but hours will remain from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. Grantham and Thomas voted against.
The council then voted 4-1 to adopt the amendment as a whole that would require anywhere alcohol can be purchased to be 250 feet from residential areas and 500 feet from churches. Grantham was the vote against.
The council will render a final vote at the second and final hearing on Tuesday, Feb 12.