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Commission rejects alcohol ordinance change

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Responding to public pressure to not make changes in the hours alcoholic beverages are sold, the Levy County Commission decided Tuesday night to let the current ordinance stand.

The unanimous action means sales will continue to end at midnight, even though neighboring counties and at least one city within Levy County sells liquor until 2 a.m. 

The public hearing drew about a dozen opponents, but the forces against change had done their work early, calling the commissioners, writing letters and speaking to them before the meeting. Although it was not stated, attendance at the public hearing could have been affected by regional baseball contests at the same time with Chiefland, Bronson and Williston high schools all playing at 7 p.m.

Tom Trammell, the owner of Willard's near Williston, and Linda and Steve Insprucker, the owners of Sunray Saloon in Morriston, asked the commission to extend the hours to give their businesses "a fair playing field" with operations that can stay open until 2 a.m. 

Trammell said the county has many hunting camps where drinking occurs at late hours that are not regulated. "You have no control on when they leave," he said.  

Linda Insprucker said the request to extend hours was not only made to increase sales, but also "so I could give jobs to people." 

Steve Insprucker said the county cannot stay as it is and "the county is going to have to upgrade its rules."

Sylvia McCullar of Chiefland, an opponent of extending sales hours, asked the commissioners to keep public safety and public order in mind in considering the proposed ordinance. She said the two tavern owners who sought the change did so "because they wanted to increase their income."

Marie Strange of Chiefland, an opponent of the change asked the commission "to govern for all the people not just two bars."

The two women as well as Jerry Nash, head of the Harmony Baptist Association and Keith Stewart, pastor of Morriston Baptist Church, outlined the family and social problems alcohol consumption causes families. They also noted the cost to the county. 

"There will be more fatalities (on the roads), more law enforcement costs, more EMS costs," Nash said, as a result of the longer sales hours. 

Stewart said, "While everything may be permissible, not everything may be beneficial." He went on to discuss how families are destroyed by drinking. 

Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston (R-District 5) said he had heard from a lot of people who were not at the hearing. "I understand the need to ask," Stevens said, but he said he had been provided statistics from former sheriffs that showed there would be an increase in law violations and the need for more law enforcement. 

"My position is and always was keep it as it is," Stevens said. 

Commissioner Michael Joyner of Morriston (R-District 3) mentioned his 38-year career in law enforcement and said, "Ninety percent of the bad stuff goes on after midnight."

Commissioner Chad Johnson of Chiefland (R-District 2) said everyone who sent him letters and emails and called or spoke to him was against extending the hours. "I need to look at what the opinions are of citizens," he said. 

Commissioner John Meeks of Bronson (R-District 1) said, "I have struggled with this balancing morals and values versus economic factors."  He said there are safety concerns, but said alcohol sales provide jobs for tax-paying, law abiding people. "They (the two taverns) do police themselves," Meeks said. "They have very few callouts (for law enforcement)."

Commission Chair Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4) said "I believe people have the right to make their own decisions." But he said he was heeding his constituency. "The majority was to leave it be."