Business owners didn’t waste time approaching Hanceville leaders seeking to start the process of obtaining a privilege license to serve liquor in the city.
Twelve hours after Hanceville went wet, at least three of them were waiting outside the door to city hall — before the employees had opened the office for regular business hours.
By Friday — the first day application forms were available — five business owners had come by to pick them up. More had inquired by phone.
Officials pledge that getting a liquor license in Hanceville won’t become sluggish or burdensome, but the city has needed a few days to ensure its application paperwork and approval process comply with its own alcohol ordinance, as well as with Alabama Beverage Control Board (ABC) regulations.
City clerk Tania Wilcox, who spent a chunk of her workday following the election on the phone with an ABC representative and discussing liquor licensing with various city officials, said the city’s alcohol license request form had needed a little fine-tuning, and an attorney’s approval, before the city could give them out.
The application was finalized Friday; it’s now available at city hall. Both the form and the alcohol ordinance are also on the city’s website at www.cityofhanceville.net/publicnotice.html.
Beyond picking up an application and paying the non-refundable $500 application fee, how long will it be before the first beverage is served in Hanceville?
“It’s hard to answer, because we don’t know the time frame that a couple of things will take,” said Mayor Kenneth Nail Wednesday afternoon. “We are going to be diligent with it, and follow our ordinance right to the tee. We’re sailing in uncharted territory, but I can tell you that it will initially be a little slower than it will be later on, once we get on the same page with ABC and get someone appointed to our [alcohol licensing review] board.”
That board — composed of the mayor, city clerk, police chief, fire chief, building inspector PD chief fire chief, building inspector and one at-large citizen representative — will be complete once the city council appoints the at-large member at its regular meeting Thursday and takes up the drafting of bylaws.
The alcohol licensing review board will handle all licensing applications and review the applicants to ensure they have complied with all requirements set forth in the city’s alcohol ordinance.
Handling enforcement of the ordinance’s fees and restaurant receipt compliance will be a matter for both the city clerk’s office and at least one law enforcement officer who will be designated as a specialist. Nail likened the approach to that used by the City of Arab.
“If I understand it right, Arab has appointed a compliance officer in the police department, and that officer reports back to the council and to the alcohol committee,” said Nail. “On the money side, we will probably set up a special account for the city, and all that money will go into that account off the liquor sales. Right now, I’m thinking we will probably divvy that money out to the recipients in the ordinance every three months.”
Under the alcohol ordinance set in place in 2010, clubs, lounges, package stores and restaurants all would pay the city an additional monthly fee totaling 15 percent of gross receipts on the sale of liquor. Revenues from the sale of beer and wine would not be subject to the monthly fee.
Aside from 50 percent dedicated to the city’s general fund and 35 percent for infrastructure, the city’s fire department and police department would receive 5 percent of revenues from alcohol licensing and sales fees. Hanceville’s schools, which are administered by the Cullman County Board of Education, would get the remaining 5 percent.
Nail said the schools’ share could increase, if school officials and the city council maintain a rapport that frees the schools to spend the money as they see fit, while simultaneously providing the city an accounting that the extra funds have been well used. And, he added, the alcohol money is meant to benefit children in Hanceville, and will not be funneled through the county board of education.
“First of all, we want to make sure that the money that goes to Hanceville schools stays local,” he said. “What I want the council and the schools to do is to brainstorm on how to do it in a manner where there’s accountability. If the schools come and periodically give a report to the council on what the money is going for, and what they’re buying, the council could, in turn, eventually look into that extra 50 percent [resting in the city’s general fund] and feel good about giving them more.”
Council member Jimmy Sawyer agreed, adding that the city council should be tactful as it apportions municipal funds only to county schools in Hanceville — especially in light of Tuesday’s countywide approval of a half-cent sales tax increase to benefit all public schools.
“I want there to be some way for them [school administrators] to make their own decisions; to give them the leeway and the opportunity to choose how the money is spent — but for us to get a report on it; to see how it’s being spent,” said Sawyer. “We have to realize, now, that the county has the half-cent sales tax, and that Hanceville gets its share of that too. I wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers for people who might live at Holly Pond or, maybe, on the east side, who send their kids to those schools but are buying their beer in Hanceville.”
Nail said it’s likely the city won’t review or approve any applicant’s license request until that applicant has first received approval from the state ABC board. Once that’s done, an applicant can pay the city the Hanceville application fee and receive consideration from the city’s alcohol board. If an applicant meets the criteria — which includes a public hearing — the board can then make a recommendation to the city council to approve that applicant’s request.
Finally, if the city council does approve a license, the applicant will pay the city its first annual licensing fee and be cleared to begin serving alcoholic beverages.
* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.