State questions Landrum Sunday alcohol sales

Published 5:43 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The South Carolina Department of Revenue said wording of the alcohol referendum passed by Landrum voters Nov. 8 should have matched  wording of the state statute but it did not. Therefore the department has placed limitations on the on-premise sale of alcohol in the city on Sundays.

City administrator Steve Wolochowicz said he, city council members and city attorney Larry Flynn were all under the assumption that the city had the right to be more restrictive in its language.

“I and others believed that when the state has a law, cities have a right to be more strict; you can’t be more liberal, but you can be more strict,” Wolochowicz said. “The Department of Revenue is of the opinion that you have to use their wording exactly in your referendum. You have no choice. It’s their way or no way.”

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Landrum’s referendum stated that “restaurants” could apply for on-premise alcohol permits for Sundays to sell wine, beer and liquor. The state statute however said “businesses” could apply for such a permit.

If businesses in general could apply for such a permit that could open the door for a bar or private club to offer alcohol sales on Sunday, something Wolochowicz said council members did not want to see happen.

In response to the wording change, the Department of Revenue’s interpretation places limits on Sunday alcohol sales. The restrictions would allow restaurants to apply for Sunday on-premise sale permits with the ability to sell beer and wine, if approved for said permit, indefinitely.

Restaurants receiving the permit for on-premise Sunday sales would only be allowed to sell liquor for one year.

“At this stage of the game on-premise sales would be available to anyone interested as early as the end of this week,” Flynn said.

In June of this year the legislature passed a law that said any business owner in an area that had a successful referendum for alcohol sales could apply for a permit to sell just beer and wine without paying the fee associated with the permits.

To sell liquor as well, there is a $3,000 fee per year. If the restaurants in Landrum choose to pay that $3,000 fee they would only be able to do so for one year.

Wolochowicz and council members met with Flynn during an executive session Dec. 13 to discuss the city’s options regarding the new restrictions.

If Landrum officials want to pursue lengthening the ability to sell liquor on Sundays, the city would have to approve placing a new referendum on the ballot in November 2012 using the exact wording of the state statute. This would not only open the door up for a larger variety of businesses to sell alcohol, but could also open the door for the referendum to fail.

“The risk is if it doesn’t pass, and you don’t have a successful referendum, then you don’t get the beer and wine sales anymore either,” Wolochowicz said. “Being a major election next year we will have a lot more voters voting, so who knows how it will go.”

The referendum passed in the last election by just 22 votes, Wolochowicz said.

Wolochowicz said he would likely suggest that council begin discussions about whether or not to pursue another referendum next March.