Council Unanimously Approves Earlier On-Premise Sunday Alcohol Sales

Mimosas, photo by Joe Shlabotnik, Flickr Commons

Restaurants will soon be able to serve alcohol beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays after the Birmingham City Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance allowing for earlier sales, which were previously restricted to noon on Sunday.

On March 26, Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill that was passed by the Alabama Legislature, SB384, that would allow for the Council to determine whether or not to allow on-premise alcohol sales in Birmingham starting at 10 a.m. on Sundays. The bill that was passed simply allows the council to vote on the matter, rather than taking the issue to a referendum.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, alcohol could not be served or sold between the hours of 2 a.m. and noon on Sundays. It’s worth noting, the proposed ordinance would not change the 2 a.m. cutoff time on Sunday mornings.

But before you break out the champagne, the mayor must sign the ordinance and it must be advertised in the newspaper. As it stands, restaurants are expected to be able to serve alcohol at 10 a.m. beginning this Sunday.

Councilor Hunter Williams drafted the ordinance that was approved on Tuesday. “This is a win, win, win. We’re going to create extra revenue for city coffers,” Williams said from the dais. “The small business owners in my district and throughout the entire city, all have lobbied for this and are in favor of this. We have to be competitive with other cities within our states and regions. This ordinance is a step in that direction.”

The bill (SB384) that was passed by the Alabama Legislature reads as follows:

Relating to the City of Birmingham in Jefferson County; to authorize the Birmingham City Council to authorize the sale of alcoholic beverages within the corporate limits of the city for on-premises consumption on Sunday commencing at 10:00 a.m. BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA: Section 1. This act shall only apply to the City of Birmingham in Jefferson County.

Section 2. In addition to any other authority for the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday, the Birmingham City Council may authorize the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption on Sunday commencing at 10:00 a.m.

Section 3. The provisions of this act are supplemental and shall not be construed to repeal any other law except to the extent of any direct conflict with this act.

Section 4. This act shall become effective immediately following its passage and approval by the Governor, or its otherwise becoming law.

Below is a draft of the proposed ordinance that would allow on-premise alcohol sales in Birmingham, which is the only municipality this would apply to:

Williams said the proposed elimination of this “blue law” (any law prohibiting certain activities on Sundays) is something that is long overdue for Birmingham. “The [previous] law has been an unnecessary burden on both taxpayers and local businesses that take the biggest hit from not being able to serve alcohol before noon on a day when a lot of people are off work and often feel inclined to have a mimosa or Bloody Mary at brunch,” Williams said. “Alcohol typically accounts for a substantial percentage of a restaurant’s overall sales and the current law has only served to hinder a major source of revenue for small local businesses.”

Williams pushed back on the notion that the ordinance will encourage more drinking and driving. “It’s one thing to open liquor stores in the morning, it’s something different to allow people to have a mimosa while having brunch,” Williams said.

The bill does not, however, allow for off-premise alcohol sales, meaning people will not be allowed to buy six packs or liquor before noon at a package store.

Mindy Hannon, president of the Alabama Restaurant and Hospitality Association, said, “One of the goals is to keep people in your city longer and this ordinance gives people a reason to get up and spend money in your city.” Hannon also said she believes the ordinance will increase job opportunities for Birmingham residents.

In a study conducted by researchers with the University of Montevallo in 2016, before Shelby County residents overwhelmingly voted to rescind a blue law that banned countywide Sunday alcohol sales, it shows the kind of tax revenue such a move can have on a local economy.

Patrons enjoying a Bloody Mary at Brunch at the now-closed Cosmo’s Pizza in Five Points South, photo by Charlie, Flickr Commons

“Repealing the Sunday alcohol sales ban results, directly and indirectly, in $10,919,376 worth of output; $2,181,975 in earnings; and 171 jobs,” the study reads. “Rescinding the ban results in a total of $982,744 worth of tax revenues for the state, Shelby County, and Shelby cities. While the state of Alabama will collect close to half a million dollars ($436,775) of taxes, both the county and the cities within the county will collect more than half a million dollars of taxes ($545,969).”

Overall alcohol sales in the state would increase 8.38 percent after the ballot measure lifted the ban on Sunday alcohol sales.

The study also notes that blue laws such as this actually predate the founding of the United States; the first blue law was enacted in the colony of Virginia in 1619.

Last year, a measure that would have allowed alcohol sales before noon on Sundays failed to make it onto ballots in Birmingham and Mobile. The cities of Montgomery and Huntsville already have laws in place that allow for such sales.

Julie Barnard, Birmingham City Attorney, said the measure would go into effect immediately after passage of the ordinance. She also continued by saying that the city could save upwards of $500,000 by not having to decide the issue by way of a referendum.

During a public hearing held during last week’s Public Safety Committee, local restaurant owners spoke in favor of the ordinance. Marco Morosini, the owner of Silvertron Cafe, said the move would drastically increase restaurant sales in Birmingham. “I have no idea how many people don’t come out to eat brunch because they can’t have mimosas,” Morosini said. “To me this is common sense to be able to serve alcohol during this time.”

Dino Sarris, whose father owns The Fish Market in Southside, said eight years ago the restaurant did not serve alcohol and his father was concerned about the type of crowd that would draw. He convinced his father to try serving alcohol for a 60 day period. “Almost immediately we saw an uptick in sales. The people coming and enjoying a drink were our regular customers that we’ve known for years…I don’t feel like there is a tremendous amount of risk here. The city is on a progressive path and I just want to express my support for this ordinance,” Sarris said.

In a statement given to AL.com last year after the failed effort to get the measure on the ballot, John Oros, president and CEO of the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau had this to say about the impact the current law has on the local economy:

“The tourism and hospitality industry is vital to a strong economy in Birmingham and Jefferson County. Our nationally known food scene is one of our greatest draws for visitors to the Birmingham region. Our restaurants employ many of the 30,000 local residents working in our region’s restaurants, hotels, events, festivals, and attractions. As a result, the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau strongly supports the ‘Brunch Bill’ legislation.”

The Council voted 4–1 to continue the one-cent sales tax that was first implemented in 2008

ONE-CENT SALES TAX

The Council also voted on Tuesday to continue the one-cent sales tax that was set to expire. It was first implemented in 2008 by former Mayor Larry Langford, who, quite famously said after the vote, “Dome, done. Scholarships, done. Transit, done. It’s a good day.”

As Langford’s comments allude to, the tax increase was to go toward those three items.

The item for the continuation of the one-cent sales tax

However, Councilor Lashunda Scales took issue with what she characterized as a misuse of the funds that were collected from the sales tax, saying the money has not been utilized for those purposes and that the Council, at the time, took the Langford at his word. “How is this money going to the projects it was supposed to go to?”… We’re operating on 15 percent of our budget. 85 percent is salary. I’m not going off of trust. People in my district respect me because I get paperwork,” Scales said. She would later cast the dissenting vote.

Mayor Randall Woodfin offered an explanation of how the money has and will be used.

“The former mayor said this would go toward transportation, a dome and education,” Woodfin said. “I want to say eight years ago we saw the city’s commitment to the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority go from $1 million to $10.8. Before the sales tax, the city of Birmingham was only supporting the BJCTA to $1 million a year. On education we haven’t seen money be where it needs to be. That’s going to require me to submit a budget that shows I’m supporting education. As a result of the one-cent sales tax we’ve seen an increase to education from restricted line items and unrestricted items. Without that general fund money, we won’t be able to do much of anything for our constituents.”

Woodfin continued by saying that while a large portion of the budget is used for salaries, those jobs are essential to having a functioning city.

“We got 3500 calls to our 311 help line last month,” Woodfin said. “85 percent of those issues were resolved by the our Public Works employees. We have 900 plus people with our police departments. They provide service to our residents. It’s not about their jobs, it’s about the service that our residents request. That’s how we function as a city.”

Approximately $32 million of the city’s $428 million budget is generated from the one-cent sales tax that was set to expire before the vote.

Councilor Sheila Tyson also raised questions about how the money will be used.

“I stay in the heart of the city, where all the problems are,” Tyson said. “We keep saying we’re going to stick to what we promise the citizens. At $10 million that was given to transit, we’re still not saying what we’re doing with that. How are we going to continue this without knowing exactly where the money is going?”

Council President Pro Tem Jay Roberson argued that the current administration be given the chance to prove the money can be appropriated correctly.

“We’ve heard a lot of history up here today,” Roberson said, referring to the way the money from the sales tax has been used in the past. “I recall a budget being $377 million when I first got on. I recall a deficit of $77 million. We did some restructuring financially. We made a lot of tough decisions to get where we are today. Today at a $428 million budget, we have to give this mayor a chance. We have to look at how we appropriate funding. I feel more confident today that we can do just that. With this one-cent sales tax, I’ve seen more opportunity in Birmingham than I’ve seen in my whole life. We can’t set ourselves back. For us to eliminate this tax — we’re not increasing taxes — it would set us back. Business is moving back in. We’re seeing more revenue than I’ve ever witnessed. I hear the concerns, but we don’t want to go back to where we were before.”

Tweets from The Birmingham City Council in Birmingham, Alabama