After the Guilford County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, July 13, adult residents of unincorporated Guilford County who enjoy throwing back beers or Bloody Marys at public establishments on Sunday mornings will be able to do just that.
In a June change of state law, state legislators gave local governments across North Carolina the right, if they so chose, to move up the start time of Sunday alcohol sales at bars, restaurants and other ABC-licensed venues, from noon to 10 a.m., and Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips said this week that he expects the Guilford County commissioners to vote overwhelmingly to approve the change.
State Rep. Jon Hardister was one of the primary sponsors of the bill.
Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad, who ran Libby Hill Seafood Restaurants for years and who now owns and operates a seafood supply business, said the Sunday morning alcohol sales will help area restaurants and other county businesses where alcohol is sold.
“I am a supporter of it,” Conrad said of the change coming to unincorporated Guilford County. “It’s good for my industry; it’s good for people in the hospitality business and it’s also good for the county because of the added sales tax revenue.”
Conrad said moving up the start time of Sunday drink sales will also benefit Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA). He said that, often, those people flying from other parts of the country who want a cocktail or drink at the airport don’t understand the current Sunday morning prohibition. Being told they have to wait until noon on Sunday to have a drink could create a negative impression of the area.
For all those and other reasons, Conrad said, he plans to vote in favor of the change that’s on the agenda for the July 13 meeting, and he added that he hopes other commissioners will do so as well.
The new legislation, commonly referred to as the “Brunch Bill,” was passed by the NC General Assembly last month and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday, June 30. It gives local governments the right to make the change if they want to do so. The amendment the Guilford County Board of Commissioners will discuss and vote on reads, “Any establishment located within Guilford County and holding an ABC permit issued pursuant to [the state’s General Statutes] is permitted to sell beverages allowed by its permit beginning at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays.”
The bill has garnered a modicum of opposition from some Christian groups and others who don’t want to see public alcohol sales taking place while church is in progress. However, other groups – some citing a separation of church and state as a guiding principle of American government – say there’s no reason to hang onto the existing “blue law.”
As chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Phillips usually has a good handle on how the board will vote on key legislation. Phillips, who said he supports the change, said he fully anticipates his fellow commissioners will approve it as well.
“I think this is generally a pro-business move,” Phillips said of moving up Sunday morning drink sales by two hours. “There may be some controversy about that, as we’ve seen in the press, but I do expect nearly unanimous approval by our board.”
When it was pointed out to Phillips that some churches already serve wine on Sunday mornings, Phillips said his church wasn’t one of those.
“Mine uses grape juice,” the chairman said.
Commissioner Alan Branson said he’s going to vote yes unless someone or something changes his mind before July 13.
“If anybody wants to drink during Sunday school, I’m all for it,” Branson joked. “I don’t think liquor sales are going to kill us.”
While drinks will be served earlier on Sundays in restaurants in the towns, cities and counties that approve the change, ABC stores will still be closed on Sundays across the state.
The Guilford County commissioners’ vote will decide the rules for unincorporated Guilford County, but other municipal governments within the county will have to make their own decision. The City of Greensboro, for instance, could take up the matter before the end of the month.
Not all Guilford County commissioners are convinced this is a wise move. Commissioner Skip Alston said he wants to hear the arguments at the board meeting. He said that, currently, his feelings on the matter aren’t very strong either way.
“I want to weigh the pros and cons,” Alston said. “I don’t think moving up the time will make much difference.”
This same debate is now going on in cities and counties across the state, and some local governments, such as Carrboro and Raleigh, have already approved the measure.
In addition to the Brunch Bill, there’s other new state legislation the Guilford County commissioners may have to address – though the Sunday morning alcoholic drink issue is the only one on the county’s agenda Thursday night. One bill supported by state Sen. Trudy Wade allows Guilford County to implement a pilot program to test placing legally required advertising. The bill, which was passed by the legislature but has not been signed by the governor, would give Guilford County the option of posting legally required public notices on the county’s website rather than in a paid subscription newspaper. That move would save the county money, but the newspapers that benefit from the existing law are fighting against the legislative change.
Guilford County could also accept legally required advertising from municipalities, the state government and attorneys for set fees. The county would get to keep 50 percent of the fees and 50 percent would go to the schools for teacher supplements.
Phillips said the Board of Commissioners may address that issue once the fate of the legislation in Raleigh is clear. The bill could be vetoed by the governor.
Phillips said that, under current law, the cost of filing public notices can be very expensive for Guilford County government. He said he recently had discussions with Guilford County Social Services Director Heather Skeens about the major expenses that department has to bear under the current law.
“They are often trying to, for instance, locate the father of a child and in some cases that notice can cost $900,” Phillips said.
He also said the cost of public notices across all county departments adds up fast since the county has to publish a “ton of notices.” He said county staff is now compiling information from the various departments regarding the total costs of all such notices that Guilford County is required to publish. Staff will present that information to the commissioners to help guide the board’s decision.
Five years ago, Guilford County was spending over $80,000 a year just to print the long list of property owners who were delinquent on their property tax bills. The county placed that list annually in the News & Record; however, when the board changed from a Democratic majority to Republican majority in 2012, one of the first changes the commissioners made was moving the ads to the Jamestown News – something that knocked the county’s cost down from more than $80,000 to about $5,000 annually.
“That was a huge move the board made,” Phillips said this week.