Robert Goff (foreground) reads the liquor referendum question to fellow commissioners.
With Dade's liquor-by-the-drink referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot this year, District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff said at the Dade County Commission's regular monthly meeting on Thursday that it's high time to start drafting regulations and restrictions as to alcohol licensing in case the measure passes.
"We need to go to work then," said Goff during the informal work session segment of the Oct. 6 meeting.
He said the county attorney, Robin Rogers, had explained to the commission that the language of the referendum question had to be terse and to the point as opposed to entangled in stipulations and exceptions. Otherwise, said Goff, "It looks like you're working either for or against."
In fact, the referendum question as it appears on the ballot, and as Goff read aloud at the meeting, is: "Shall the governing authority of Dade County be authorized to issue licenses to sell distilled spirits for beverage purposes by the drink, such sales to be for consumption only on the premises?"
In the event Dade voters answer that question Yes, said Goff, the commission needs to know how to respond to applications for liquor licenses come Jan. 1.
Attorney Rogers told Goff and the other commissioners that while they would be authorized to issue liquor licenses on Jan. 1, they were by no means compelled to do so, and that they would be allowed to impose any reasonable restrictions on liquor licensure as they saw fit and given time to draft such. "There's a lot of latitude given to local government," said Rogers.
If the referendum passes, alcohol licensures for on-site consumption would be reviewed and granted by the existing ABC or so-called "Beer Board" that now licenses stores to sell beer and wine, according to whatever restrictions and specifications the county commission imposes, said the attorney.
After the work session, The Planet asked Goff what "reasonable restrictions" he had in mind. Goff answered that the county would probably impose restrictions similar to the ones the city of Trenton added to its beer-and-wine ordinance, such as requiring establishments selling liquor to gross 75 percent of their income from food sales.
"The whole idea is so that there's not something like your old watering holes or honky-tonks, where you could go out here on 157 and you got a little room about this size and you got pretzels and whiskey," said Goff.
District 4's Allan Bradford added that any restaurant wishing to sell liquor would have to be on Dade's limited sewer system.
In Wildwood, gas stations on Highway 299 are serviced by a sewer line that runs north to Chattanooga but south only to about the old Clark Lumber building, stopping short of Trenton. Then the Trenton sewer system covers the town proper and extends south down Highway 11 to just past the Four Fields sports complex.
Thus the sewer restriction would prevent any restaurant on Sand or Lookout Mountain from benefitting by a yes answer to the liquor referendum--including the award-winning Canyon Grill restaurant atop Lookout, for the sake of which some of the early push for the referendum was made.
In any case, Goff and crew took no further honky-tonk prevention measures at the Thursday meeting.
In other business, the commission discussed without action the proposed "D-TIP"--Dade Transportation Improvement Program. D-TIP would be as much as a one-cent local option sales tax, proceeds of which would stay within Dade County for use on roads and other transportation projects, such as the county's long-desired north Trenton exit off I-59. County Clerk Don Townsend, who is participating in the Joint Trenton/Dade 10-Year Plan brainstorming sessions, said, "This is like major right now for us." But there's no hurry--"This will require a referendum and it cannot be held before July 2017," said Townsend.
An item Townsend asked the commissioners to act more quickly on is Dade's proposed hotel-motel tax. "In the next 30 days we need to decide which of the hotel/motel tax [ordinances] we want," said Townsend. ""I just want you to be thinking of who, how and where's the money going to go."
Perhaps, he suggested, part of any proceeds of such a tax could go toward paying the electric bill at the historic county courthouse, which the county hopes to make a tourism destination. "I don't think it's going to be an enormous amount of money," said Townsend, "but anything that helps offset property tax, why would we not do it?"
Attorney Rogers interjected that if Dade wishes to impose the hotel/motel tax on Cloudland Canyon State Park, an agreement with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources must be worked out.
Jessica Castillo, who often updates the commission on her campaign to strengthen state restrictions on convicted sex offenders, announced that the next Georgia senate hearing on the matter would be in Dade County, in fact in the commission's own meeting room in the Administrative Building, on Nov. 3 beginning at 9 a.m. The public is welcome to attend.
Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley announced that the anti-fracking ordinance he proposed at last month's commission meeting is making some progress, with plans to have a member of a fracking study group help the county attorney draft the language. "We'll be the first county in the state of Georgia to do this," said Rumley.
Despite the commission's historic reluctance to venture into any territory that might be construed as land-use restriction, none of the commissioners offered any objections to such an ordinance. District 1's Mitchell Smith read supporting statistics to the effect that of Dade's 111,360 acres, the mineral rights to 40 percent of those were owned by two companies. More than 40 percent of Dade's mineral rights might be owned by someone other than the landowner, he clarified; but the two companies alone owned that big a chunk of Dade's nether regions and could presumably frack it without landowners' consent.
"We need to head this off before it happens," agreed Chairman Rumley.
Rumley reported that he had a meeting to attend on the long-discussed Lookout Lake dam issue on Oct. 12. "This is kind of coming to a head," he said. The desired option is to lower the water level of the lake, he said. He said the county could do 90 percent of the work in-house.
The commission OKed SPLOST (special-purpose local option sales tax) funds to buy new firefighting garments and empowered Rumley to pay $69,800 in SPLOST for Dade's share of a three-way cost sharing among the county, city of Trenton and Dade Board of Education to install a long-needed traffic light in front of Dade High School.
Clerk Townsend announced in a prolonged financial report that Dade was going great guns at getting out of debt. "That's $1.6 million we've paid off in just the last three or four years," he said. "That's a great accomplishment."
Robert Goff having read the alcohol referendum question, District 1's Mitchell Smith read all the proposed constitution questions on the November ballot. "Look at them and study them so you'll know how to vote," he said. "Don't be surprised."
District 2's Scottie Pittman drew attention to the new nonskid surfacing up and down Sand Mountain. District 4's Allan Bradford said he'd received praise on improvements to county road Burkhalter Gap.
The county commission got a demo on new LED lighting available for ballfields by Rob Staples (right) of MUSCO, a company that sells such. He showed the commission the new low-glare, low-energy-consuming, no-warmup-time options now available for lighting athletic fields. "Once it's on you're playing ball," he said.
Marshana Sharp of the Dade Public Library announced that the library would be transformed to the Land of Oz for Trick-or-Treat Alley on Oct. 29. She reminded all that the library has free passes, available for checkout by patrons, for attractions including Cloudland Canyon, the Atlanta Zoo and, newly, the Michael C. Carlos Ancient Art Museum at Emory in Atlanta.
Charlie Gray of the Dade Chamber of Commerce invited all to attend the Chamber's Zombie Walk on Oct. 29, or at least to buy a T-shirt, available by calling (706) 657-4488. After the Walk, the C of C will offer a free movie on the square, "The Last Man on Earth."
Audrey Clark of Trenton Telephone/TVN said the company has started preliminary fiber-optic work on New Home Road and begun planning which areas to expand such service to in 2017.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month in the Dade Administrative Building.
(left) Alex Stern delivers the 4H news to the commission.