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County Commission 3-2: Puts the kibosh on extending bar hours 1 hour to 2 am

Old Time Bar

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On tap during last night's County Commission meeting was an ordinance to extend the ability of bars and restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages from 1 am to 2 am. A sister ordinance, allowing mixed drinks to be sold in restaurants on Sundays had recently been turned down by the Commission on a split vote. Last night's result was no different. On a 3-2 vote, the Commission voted to continue to restrict the open hours of alcoholic beverage sales to 1 am, leaving Columbia County surrounded by two counties which allow bars and restaurants to serve until 2 am.

This story began on January 31, 2013, when Lake City attorney William J. Roberts, Jr., who represented several local bar owners, contacted County Manager Dale Williams and told him his clients "are experiencing problems competing with similar establishments in neighboring counties.

Attorney Roberts continued, "The problems seem to stem primarily from our neighboring counties and cities within them, particularly, Suwannee and Alachua, being able to sell alcoholic beverages until 2:00 am, and Lowndes County, Georgia, selling until 1:55 a.m., while our County prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages past 1:00 a.m."

Public Hearing

County Line Bar owner makes his case for extending drink serving hours.

A local bar owner, Bill, whose last name was unintelligible because of the continuing lousy acoustics that County Board Chairman Stephen Bailey refuses to address, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

Victor Konters of RCS (Regulatory Compliance Services) an organization that educates servers and sellers of alcoholic beverages "on how to serve their guests in a lawful and responsible manner" spoke in favor of the ordinance.

Mr. Konters told the Commission that the members of his organization were in favor of making compliance with Responsible Vendor Training mandatory and part of the ordinance.

The husband of the Rock Star Lounge owner said bar owners he knows do their part for saftey.

The husband (acoustic issues made his name unintelligible) of the owner of the Rock Star Lounge in Lake City spoke in favor of the ordinance. He said he is doing his part for safety and drunkenness is not "put up with" in his establishment. He mentioned the first speaker, Bill, who he said is the owner of the County Line Bar in Columbia County also does his part for safety.

The Deciders

District I Commissioner Ronald Williams, after going on and on, said he believed that there should be a uniform closing time "whether you agree with drinking alcohol or not." He said, "That would eliminate bar hopping."

Commissioner Williams voted for the ordinance.

Commissioner Scarlet Frisina said she tried to take her personal opinion out of her decision.

District III Commissioner Bucky Nash lost sight of the fact that this ordinance was for all bars in Columbia County, excluding Lake City, not just the County Line Bar which is just few miles from the Suwannee County line.

Commissioner Nash said he agreed "with the bar hoppin' thing." About extending the hours he said, "I believe a business owner should have the right to do that."

Commissioner Nash voted for the ordinance.

District II Commissioner Rusty DePratter was next. He told the bar owners, "I have a problem with your business." Commissioner DePratter said he took his personal opinion out and contacted 75 people in his district that he respected. "I've had one, maybe two people that said they would support this."

Commissioner DePratter, whose district has over 8,500 registered voters, voted against the ordinance.

District III Chairman Bailey said, "I do not support it. I cannot support it. I received comments from people in my district and not in my district. There are pros and cons on both sides... I have to represent most of my district... I cannot support it."

District III has 9,000 plus registered voters. Chairman Bailey voted against the ordinance.

Commissioner Scarlet Frisina. "I got calls from constituents as well as others. I don't believe that I had other than one phone call, from someone who is in the business that supported extending the hours." "I am trying to take my personal opinion out of it."

Commissioner Frisina has approximately 8,400 registered voters in her District, District V. She voted against the ordinance.

Comments (to add a comment go here)

On June 11, Kyle Rasmussen of Lake City wrote:

As I sat in the meeting I was expecting to hear what steps the County Commissioners were taking to not only generate new tax revenues, but to also bring good paying full time jobs. Comments made by a couple of the Board members suggested that they are trying to come up with ways to generate new revenues to entice businesses to come here and grow.

On that note, this discussion had taken place after some of the respected bar owners of Columbia County showed up to express their concerns and interests in the county setting the ordinance to sell alcohol from 1 a.m. until 2 a.m. The owners were well prepared with a list of sources that showed statistics that the decision to do so could have created (if I heard correctly because of the acoustics) nearly $300,000 of new tax revenue for that extra hour on an annual basis, let alone the lives the ordinance could save on our highways according to the Florida Highway Safety Administration study, simply by people not having to bar hop across county lines to keep their parties going.

It hit me pretty hard to see the majority of the Board come to their NAY vote after claiming they had talked to such a small minority of their constituents, who the Commissioners claimed opposed the idea. I'm not the greatest at math, but 75 people out of each district is a very small amount of voters compared to how many actually reside in those areas of the county.

In my opinion, common sense has been thrown out the window in this case.


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