One of the goals the Upson County Board of Commissioners set for themselves this year was to go through the county’s ordinances and make changes and updates where necessary. The board tackled several of those issues at a work session meeting on Monday, June 29 where they discussed the beer and wine, distilled spirits, solid waste and occupation tax ordinances.
First up for discussion dealt with the distances an establishment that sells beer or wine has to be from a school or a church and how to measure that distance. Currently, the county’s ordinance states that the building has to be 300 feet from a school building or a church building, which is different from what the state requires, something Commissioner Steve Hudson would like to see changed. Hudson told the board the state does not require there to be any distance between a church and an establishment that sells malt beverages, which is less than what Upson County requires and there is a 600 feet distance requirement from a school, which is more than what the county currently has in place.
“As I’ve said before, I would like to mirror state law,” said Hudson. “The state is much more stringent for a school than it is for a church.”
Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston suggested the board make the distance requirement be 200 yards (600 feet) for any church grounds and 200 yards of a school building, so there would be no confusion as to what is required for what and apply it to both the beer and wine and the distilled spirits ordinances. Commissioner Hudson did not agree, stating he was not going to vote for anything more stringent than the state allows because he feels it puts business in the community at a disadvantage. Commissioner Ralph Ellington suggested made a slight change to Blackston’s suggestion and presented it to the board on the matter.
“I would go 200 yards from the church building or 200 yards from a school building or grounds, but I don’t think we need to include grounds for a church,” said Ellington. “We’ve got some churches that own acres and acres and that would be considered the ‘grounds’ and we get in the situation where they may be a half a mile apart.”
In addition to the beer and wine ordinance, the board also discussed making the same distance requirements apply to the distilled spirits ordinance. If the proposed changes are made, all existing businesses would be grandfathered in and not be affected by the increase in the distance requirement.
Another major topic of discussion dealt with the solid waste ordinance. Upson County Code Enforcement Officer Susan Morris was present at the meeting and told the board she has run into some issues when trying to enforce the trash collection due to the language in the ordinance not being as explicit as it could be. Morris asked the board to come up with definitions for what constitutes vacation homes, churches, manufactured homes and vacant homes. Morris gave the example of a church that only meets once a month or a vacation home that is only used a few times a year would not be able to have their trash can set out for trash pickup once a week as no one would be on the property. However, as the ordinance stands now they would be required to do so. The board will be looking into having clearer definitions in the updated ordinance.
Another issue that Morris brought up has to deal with vacant homes, particularly those used as rental homes. She stated they are required through the ordinance to be signed up for trash service as well, but most landlords leave that up to the tenants. Morris noted that many are skipping out on paying for the service and are moved out of the house and nowhere to be found before anything can be done about it. The commissioners proposed making a change to have the property owner be responsible for signing up and paying for the trash pickup and then passing the fees along to their tenants.
County Manager Jim Wheeless stated the board has not made a decision on anything at this time, but is looking into how to tailor the trash service to best serve the citizens.
Morris also brought up the fact that there are quite a bit of people living in RV’s as their permanent homes in Upson County, which is not allowed by the county ordinances, and asked the board what should be done about it. Those who are doing so are essentially living in the county tax free. Commissioner Frank Spraggins told the board he didn’t want to kick out people of their homes, but thinks the county needs to look into stopping it from continuing to happen in the future. He suggested those who are already living in these situations could be grandfathered in. The board took no action on the matter at the meeting.
Finally, the commissioners are also looking into what can be done to collect on the businesses who owe money on their occupation tax. Wheeless stated there was a period of time that collection of the fee was not being enforced and the board is discussing how to go about getting the money the county is owed back.
Wheeless noted the commissioners will have a few weeks to review the proposed changes and will likely hold the first reading of the changes to the ordinances discussed at the work session at the end of July or first of August. The board is expected to have several other work sessions to continue going over the ordinances over the next few months.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1