Legislation could change cost of beer permits

Posted at 6:10 PM, Feb 18, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — To serve beer in Tennessee, establishments need to get beer permits from their local government, and currently there is legislation making it's way through the State Capitol that would allow local governments to decide how much to charge for those beer permits.

Currently, the state is in charge of the price that can be charged for beer permits, but legislation from Senator Steve Dickerson of Nashville and Representative Darren Jernigan of Nashville would amend Title 57 of the Tennessee Code Annotated to, in part, authorize local governments to set the amount of the application fee for a beer permit and the privilege tax on beer.

If the legislation passes, the Metropolitan Beer Permit Board in Nashville would be able to establish fees and taxes sufficient and appropriate to meet the administrative costs of licensing, regulating, and controlling the transportation, storage, sale, distribution, possession, receipt, and manufacture of beer and the administration of laws and ordinances relating to beer and similar alcoholic beverages, as well as have any extra funds sent back to the Metro general fund.

That's something council member Russ Pulley said he hopes will happen, as many other cities benefit from their beer permits much more than Nashville.

“Our fees are so far behind the curve on so many things," Pulley said, adding that it's not just beer permits. “What’s a code violation now. 50 bucks? That was enacted back in the dark ages when $50 meant something.”

Pulley drafted a resolution in support of the legislation on the hill that will be heard by council Tuesday night, and in his resolution, he pointed to other cities that have a beer permit price much higher than Nashville to offer a comparison.

"Fees currently charged by the Metropolitan Beer Permit Board -- $250 to apply for a beer permit and $100 for annual privilege taxes -- were last adjusted more than twenty (20) years ago during the 1990s and lag far behind peer cities of comparable size. For example, Atlanta, Georgia assesses a beer license fee of $5,000 per location, while Savannah, Georgia assesses a fee of $5,600," the resolution reads.

“The point behind this is not necessarily creating a new tax revenue source, which is good for us, but it also gets us up to a respectable level with our peer cities, and also does a good job weeding out the fly-by-night operations," Pulley said.

The current cost of $250 is much lower than many other cities, and some bars and restaurants are hesitant to endorse such an increase.

“I think that definitely would affect smaller businesses," Scott Dunn, assistant manager at Jonathan’s Grille Germantown said, adding that a jump to meet other cities may be too drastic of a move at first. “Yeah that’s definitely a jump. I would say, maybe start with a step instead of a jump.”

Pulley said that while he's aware that an increase from $250 to a cost in the thousands would be a big increase percentage wise, that based on how many beers an establishment sells, it wouldn't be a substantial cost increase.

“We’re talking about really chump change. It’s not going to significantly increase their costs," Pulley explained, adding that he doesn't think an increase would impact customers. “I don’t know that that’s significant enough to pass on to customers. So if it is, oh, maybe you’ll pay a penny more for your beer.”

It's unclear when the legislation will be voted on at the Capitol, and if passed, it's unclear when local governments would be able to change the cost of beer permits.