Bottoms up Buda: residents vote in new liquor laws, package stores

by CYNDY SLOVAK-BARTON

Voters in the city of Buda want to drink – and have music venues, wineries and microbreweries.

That’s what the 1,990 to 522 vote on the Local Option Liquor Proposition means to the city, in addition to the sales tax revenues projected with the increase in new businesses. The proposition was only on ballots of voters who live within Buda city limits because the city will get sales tax from the possible new businesses.

John Hatch, a partner with Sissy Day in Texas Petition Strategies, lives just outside of Buda and has been running these kinds of elections since he helped Buda “go wet” in 1999.

“It’s hard to predict the amount of new income to Buda, since the city is already ‘damp’,” Hatch said. However, he predicted the change in the rules will mean “about $123,000 more in sales tax revenues for the city of Buda per year.”

The new law will allow Buda to have “package stores,” as Kyle does. In addition, no longer will restaurants have to pay for the higher-priced mixed beverage license. Instead, they can now get just a beer and wine license, Hatch said.

“This proposal allows restaurants and anybody to have a choice” in the type of license they apply for, he said. With the old law, restaurants had to dish out approximately $10,000 for state and city fees and bond. Under the new law, as passed Tuesday,  the cost falls to about $2,000 for a beer and wine license.

Hatch said the old law, passed in 2004 by Buda voters that allowed the city to go “damp” – allowing restaurants to serve liquor if more than 50 percent of their income came from food sales – was prohibitive to smaller establishments. Because the wording on the ballot then said “mixed beverages,” the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission required restaurants to apply for the full bar license, instead of just a beer and wine license.

That caused problems for smaller restaurants, Hatch said. For example, Buda restaurant Chavelo’s had to wait years to save up enough money for the old license. “He (the owner) had to wait to be in business long enough to know that he could afford to stay in business,” Hatch said. “Then, he had to purchase the full mixed beverage license that allowed for a full bar.”

This year’s alcohol proposition had some trouble early on election day, Hatch said, as several voters within the Buda city limits noticed that they didn’t have the city elections or the Local Option Alcohol Proposition on their ballot. While Hatch, city officials and Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan worked out the problems, a sign was posted at Tom Green Elementary School, where Buda residents  who live within Precinct 228 vote, telling residents not to push the “cast your vote” button until they notified the election judge.

At this time, there is no count on the number of ballots affected by the voting machine glitch.

Still, with the passing of the proposition, Buda looks like it will be getting more revenue.

Hatch, who helped with the first liquor proposal in Buda in 1999, recalled how the HEB grocery story chain wanted to locate in Buda, but wanted to sell beer and wine in its store. Thus the long process of allowing liquor sales within the city limits came about.

“I tell people all over the state how the change in the law affected Buda,” said Hatch, whose business was involved in 17 communities statewide in local liquor options this General Election cycle.

HEB opened in Buda on Dec. 13, 2000, so most of that year’s sales tax revenues had nothing to do with liquor. Buda’s sales tax take that year? $450,000. In 2001, Buda’s sale tax revenue jumped to $970,000.

“Not all of that revenue is from liquor sales, of course,” Hatch said. “But it was a huge boost in the overall economy,” allowing HEB to open within city limits. “It’s the best example of before and after that I know of in liquor sales.”

During Buda’s 2004 liquor law change that allowed restaurants to serve alcohol, some residents objected, citing the possibility of strip clubs and bars coming to town.

“You can look around … That didn’t happen,” Hatch said, noting that, while a city cannot tell a business that it cannot locate in a town, a city can restrict where such business can locate.

Buda already passed a Sexually Oriented Business (SOB) rule, Hatch said, so those restrictions were in place in 2004 and remain in place today.

For now, the city is open to allow music venues where liquor can be served, to allow microbreweries to locate within city limits, and to let small businesses decide exactly what kind of license they want and how much money the owners are willing to plop down to be able to quench their customers’ thirsts.

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