Whole county to decide if south Fulton gets Sunday sales

It's an anomaly caused by two conditions: the wording of the 2011 law that allows communities to decide the issue and Fulton's unique makeup where less than 10 percent of its nearly 1 million population lives in an unincorporated area.

Package store owners in that area located south of Atlanta said they are losing revenues and want a shot at seven-day beer, wine and liquor sales. The Fulton County Commission voted Wednesday to add the question to July 31 primary ballots countywide. That means voters in Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Roswell, East Point and other cities that already changed their laws get to decide for south Fulton.

"That's just dumb," said Mike Chia, owner of Lucky 7 Beverage Mart on Old National Highway. "It's completely unnecessary, wasting people's time and money."

The law already tripped up Cobb County, which must re-vote in July because it put the Sunday question to unincorporated voters on Super Tuesday. When the state legislature lifted the statewide ban last year, following an intense lobbying effort, it used language stipulating "electors of the county" must decide at the local level.

Questioning lawmakers' priorities, Fulton commission Vice Chair Emma Darnell alluded to votes that established Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Milton and Chattahoochee Hills in the last decade.

"It's interesting that an area can incorporate with a referendum only for the folks who live in that area," she said, "but when it comes to liquor, everyone has to vote."

Also voting again will be Palmetto, the only metro Atlanta city to vote the measure down. Fairburn and Mountain Park will vote on the issue for the first time, but just for south Fulton and not for themselves. South Fulton is one of about a dozen jurisdictions throughout the metro area that remains dry on Sunday stores sales.

South Fulton Commissioner Bill Edwards said he didn't push for a referendum sooner because he heard no outcry for one. Since south Fulton sees no direct benefit from the 1-cent local-option sales tax as an unincorporated region, he didn't consider it a priority.

Several store owners, however, said they have seen 40 percent to 60 percent drops in revenues..

"Right now," Kerwin Thompson, owner Vino's Fine Wine and Spirits on Cascade Road, told the commission, "we're at a competitive disadvantage."

If voters approve the measure, south Fulton's stores could see Sunday sales as early as Sept. 2. That interval would give stores time to prepare and the county time to certify election results and iron out regulatory issues, elections director Samuel Westmoreland said.

"Every day hurts," Thompson said. "Every single day matters."

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