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Newport Business Owners Concerned Over Proposed Liquor Sales Fee

Newport City Commission voted unanimously June 11 on the first reading that would allow the city to impose a regulatory license fee on alcohol.

A second reading will be required before it becomes law.

Several bar and restaurant owners, however, raised concerns over the fee.

Morrella Raleigh, owner of Southgate House Revival, said the fee is “disheartening.”

“This is going to be hard on us, a small business, that brings great things to Newport,” she said. “We are a music night club and we bring a variety of touring musical acts to our city. We bring in patrons from Louisville, Columbus and Cincinnati too.”

The proposed regulatory fee, that would be collected quarterly is based on each individual business’ gross alcohol sales, City Manager Tom Fromme said. He recommends that the city enact a 2.5 percent fee – this would be for any business that sells or serves alcohol.

Fromme said that the fee would help cover costs for city services like fire and police. He said that the fee will create fairness among businesses and residents for the payment of these city services.

“The last time there was an increase in alcohol licenses was in 2001,” he said. “So you can see that we’re not out to keep raising the costs. But, we have very few sources of revenue for the city. We have property tax, occupational licenses that includes payroll, insurance property and regulatory fees. We are limited by constitution of the state.”

Fromme said there are about 80 establishments that serve alcohol within the city. He said city staff has been compiling data on the amount of police and fire calls that are alcohol related. According to this data, about 21.6 percent of police calls are directly related to alcohol. Fromme estimates that this could be more, as they limited the data to calls to places that serve alcohol, DUIs, public intoxication and arrests involving alcohol only, not other drugs.

According to Fromme the fee would generate about $900,000 in revenue for the city.

He said that some businesses could benefit with a reimbursement of the license fee. For example, he said, if you collect $5,000 in fees, you’ll be reimbursed the $3,500 license fee and only be paying less than $2,000. This would be the case for 22 establishments, he said.

“I feel this is the fairest way to distribute this and even out our source of revenue throughout everything,” he said.

For Terry Bond, owner of Crazy Fox Saloon, it brings uncertainty.

“We are proud and happy to do business here and we understand the need for revenue," Bond said. “However, with the struggles faced by a small business now this only brings uncertainty.”

Written by Melissa Reinert, RCN contributor