The opinions varied, but one congruent thought rang out from every speaker Monday night at a forum to discuss the proposed alcohol ordinance in Cullman — no one wants to change things too much.
Less than two weeks after voters passed a wet/dry referendum to allow the legal sale of alcohol in the city, officials held the first of two public hearings to receive input on what regulations should be put in place once sales begin in the coming months.
The second meeting is scheduled for noon Tuesday at city hall.
One of the first attendees to speak, local resident Leon Moore, asked the council to seriously consider the issue of minors purchasing alcohol.
”What about possession of alcohol by minors, and how well will that be enforced?” he asked. “Sometimes minors will hang out where beer is sold, and wait for their older friends to come out and solicit them to buy beer. Fake ID cards should also be well addressed, and we should do something to get the major parts of the ordinance out to the schools to educate the kids.”
In response to Moore’s concerns, Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper noted state law already prevents the sale of alcohol to minors, the use of false identification, and requires someone over 21 years of age to be present for alcohol to be sold. Once alcohol sales are in place, Culpepper said his department might also take additional measures to ensure laws are enforced.
“We’ve discussed adding a compliance officer, who will help ensure state law and local ordinances are enforced,” he said. “By that, we would have an underage person go and attempt to purchase alcohol, while under surveillance, to make sure local businesses are not selling to minors.”
Cullman resident Barrett Pritchard asked if there was a way for the council to limit the hours in which alcohol can be served in the city.
“I think there should be a cut off time, like midnight — I don’t mean a cut off like 9 p.m., because there is still some fun to be had between 9 p.m. and midnight,” he said with a laugh.
Mayor Max Townson said restrictions of that nature will likely be a part of the finished ordinance, as the council is only trying to fit the rules to the community.
“Sometimes, we get out of here at 8 p.m. after a council meeting, and half the lights in downtown are blinking yellow and no one is out,” he said. “There will be restrictions on things like that.”
Keith Johnson, owner of the Shell on Highway 157, offered some thoughts on how local tax regulations should be written for grocery stores and gas stations.
“A lot of our customers are interstate travelers, and we feel like we’re Cullman’s ambassadors,” he said. “You have the option of putting on higher gross taxes, like some communities around 15-20 percent, and we’d ask you to keep that lower if you could, so we could be competitive with surrounding areas. We like a clean and friendly store, and we’re proud of this community, and we hope alcohol sales will generate extra alcohol sales for the city and us.”
The local alcohol tax structure varies greatly in neighboring communities, with Arab charging 15 percent, Decatur charging 15 percent, Huntsville charging 12 percent and Warrior charging 5 percent. The amount of alcohol tax in Cullman has yet to be decided.
Johnson also discouraged the council from requiring all store sales of alcohol to be “hot” sales, as it could hinder his ability to draw in traveling shoppers at nearby hotels.
“I’ve heard a lot about that, and I request you not have a hot-only ordinance, because that would tie our hands,” he said. “If someone pops into a store and is desperate for a beer, it being hot won’t stop them from drinking it — they can just put it over ice. It hurts us because if we sell a bottle of wine to someone staying at a hotel, they won’t want to have to go back to their room and ice it before they can drink it.”
One resident asked the council to regulate Sunday alcohol sales. Council member Johnny Cook pointed out that Sunday sales will not be in effect and were not a part of the referendum passed.
“That would have to come up as another vote if folks wanted that, we don’t have any control over that,” he said.
Check out Wednesday’s edition of The Times for more on this story, as well as a report from the Tuesday forum.
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.