Richmond Hill voters will decide in November whether to allow retailers in the city to sell alcohol on Sundays.
City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to hold a referendum on Sunday package sales, adding it to the Nov. 3 ballot, which also has elections for two council seats.
“It’ll be up to the citizens if they want Sunday sales or not,” Mayor Harold Fowler said.
Voters in neighboring Chatham County approved Sunday package sales in a 2011 referendum. Bryan County began allowing them this year.
“We had local businesses coming to us saying that they’re losing money,” Mayor Harold Fowler said. “I don’t think they really wanted to go into Sunday sales, but to compete, they’re having to.”
Under the current city ordinances, restaurants in Richmond Hill can sell alcoholic drinks on Sundays as long as food accounts for more than 50 percent of their total sales.
If voters approve the measure, retailers such as grocery stores and package stores would be allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays between 12:30 and 11:30 p.m. starting in January.
Fowler cited the Publix grocery store on Highway 144 as an example of a retailer being impacted by not having Sunday package sales. He said he is aware of instances of tourists being frustrated that they couldn’t purchase alcohol when they stopped at Publix on their way to camp at Fort McAllister State Park.
“They get a case of beer or six-pack or whatever and buy a bunch of groceries, and they get to the check-out and are told, ‘Well, we can’t sell you beer on Sunday,’” Fowler said. “They just walk off and leave everything.”
Fire department budget amended
In other business, City Council approved amending this year’s budget to add $75,000 for two new firefighters hired last month.
The firefighting positions were planned for next year’s budget, but Fire Chief Ralph Catlett asked for them a few months early when the RHFD was short-staffed after two firefighters were injured on the job and another was called up to active duty in the Air Force Reserve.
The $75,000 will cover salaries, health insurance and pension benefits for the two firefighters for the remainder of this calendar year, Finance Director Bob Whitmarsh said. The positions will then be part of next year’s budget, according to Catlett.
Despite the added expense, Whitmarsh said the budget will remain balanced because the city’s Local Option Sales Tax revenue is expected to come in higher than initially anticipated.
“We’re able to do this by virtue of the fact that we believe we’re going to take in a little bit more LOST revenue, so our revenues will be able to go a little bit higher,” he said.
The additional $75,000 in expenses hiked the fire department’s budget to $770,079, which was countered by raising projected LOST revenue by $75,000 to $1.725 million. The city’s total budgeted revenue and expenses are equal at $7.325 million.
One of the two new firefighters already is on the job, and the other one will start next Tuesday, Catlett said. He added that the firefighter who had been called up to Air Force Reserve duty returned to the RHFD on Monday.
Catlett invited the community to Richmond Hill’s 9/11 ceremony at 10 a.m. Sept. 11 at J.F. Gregory Park.
The approximately half-hour ceremony will pay tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.