CLINTON — At the end of a work group session regarding the per-drink tax it had passed earlier this year, the Clinton City Council indicated no change of plan for the tax as it prepares for its June meeting.
The Council meets formally once a month which includes its members voting on legislation, such as tax packages. It’s next meeting is 6:30 p.m. June 10 at the Clinton Airport. The Wednesday work group was to review the tax package it passed in March placing a 10 percent per-drink tax on alcohol by-the-drink sales by any, as one example, restaurant in Clinton with an alcohol sales license.
The tax was first proposed shortly after the county voted itself “wet” in the November general election. Once the county was wet, the city, City Attorney Chad Brown told the council at the time, needed to review and either pass or rescind ordinances reflecting its new “wet” status.
Councilman Jeff Pistole proposed at the time an alcohol tax on by-the-drink sales which would be used to offset property tax revenues. That is, property taxes would be reduced based upon the amount taken in via drink sales tax.
What followed was a series of ordinances which provided a licensing structure for alcohol sales, and one which included a by-the-drink tax. The drink tax only passed at the council’s March meeting after some debate within the body, including Councilman Shon Hastings recommending the council first take some time to review the impact of alcohol sales and tax revenue before passing the ordinance, a position supported by Councilman Jason Lynch.
In April Hastings presented an ordinance to rescind the drink tax which was seconded by Lynch. The ordinance included an emergency clause to put it into effect that evening, as opposed to the three-reading requirement of the earlier ordinances passed under conventional process.
The repeal, after debate, was tabled without vote, with the Council agreeing to a work group session prior to its next meeting.
The work group reviewed three items regarding the tax, including the mechanics of the repeal ordinance, which had its emergency clause at the time due to the imminent initiation of the city collecting taxes, plus what impact the tax had on the city, and finally what impact a drink tax would have on the city going forward.
Hastings and Lynch were not present.
Brown asked that the city considered repeal of the emergency section of the repeal ordinance, since the city had begun collecting taxes since the Council’s last meeting.
The impact of the tax on current businesses was discussed, with a question, which was not answered at the work group, was if local restaurant L’Attitude had applied for an alcohol sales permit, or was remaining as a private club. As such the question about “current impact” remained unanswered.
Since the tax and licensing statutes had just gone into effect, no real numbers as to revenue or even number of licensees was available.
The discussion about future impact, however, generated some conversation, typified by Councilman Tim Barne’s statement “It boils down to this; tax now or tax later.”
Councilwoman Gayla Bradley echoed this sentiment, that it would be worse to pass a tax later, after businesses had moved into place, than to have one in place now while any businesses were considering the move into Clinton.
Bradley added she had recently had a conversation with a restaurant owner in another town about by-the-drink tax, to which he stated “It’s not going to make me or break me. [If you order a drink] I don’t pay it, you do.”
Debate over the impact the tax would have on businesses locating in Clinton was briefly considered, the summery of which from Pistole who stated “Location trumps tax.”
Barnes here said the council was “wasting time talking” on this matter as the more important issue was for the Council to prioritize its issues based upon voter input.
Council members, echoing a point made by Councilman Sam Ward, agreed in discussion that voters had told them they were generally in favor of the by-the-drink tax.
No following action was proposed on the ordinance, including repeal.