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Oxford investigating legality of off-premise alcohol taxes for retailers

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OXFORD Depending on an opinion from the Alabama Attorney General, the city might impose new taxes on retailers selling alcohol. 

The City Council voted Tuesday night to have Oxford attorney Ron Allen ask Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office whether any state law might restrict the city from imposing an excise tax for retail businesses based on the percentage of alcohol sold for off-premise consumption. The city in 2016 updated its alcohol tax rates to bring wine and beer up to the 5 percent already established for hard liquor and spirits

Council President Chris Spurlin said the change, if it happens, will ensure that retailers selling off-premise alcohol are taxed fairly with restaurants and other on-premise alcohol sellers. 

At its Sept. 10 meeting, the City Council was set to vote on an amendment to city code that would change the alcohol tax rate to 7 percent for retailers, both restaurant and non-restaurant according to the code, for “any alcoholic beverage whatsoever” sold within the city. That ordinance was pulled from the voting agenda, however, in favor of more legal research before committing to any action, council members said at the time. 

A provided copy of the form letter already filled in by Allen includes no mention of changes to the tax rate, asking only whether a city can “impose an excise tax on retailers based upon a percentage of total sales of alcohol for off-premises consumption.”

Responses from Marshall’s office have been slow to arrive in the past; Anniston received an opinion in regard to a question its City Council posed in April, a little over a year since the request was sent. 

During its meeting, the City Council also: 

— Approved a contract with the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama to create the Oxford Regional Events Fund, which will help pay for public events and “provide economic, entertainment, educational, recreational, and or cultural opportunities for the local community and visitors,” according to a contract provided by the city. 

The Community Foundation will administer the fund and manage its payouts, according to the contract. 

Spurlin said the charitable nature of the fund will make it easier for gifts and donations to be put toward regional opportunities, including the Alabama Children’s Museum discussed in previous council meetings

— Contracted with Webb Concrete and Building Materials and McCartney Construction Company to provide concrete and bituminous concrete asphalt, respectively, purchased as-needed during the next year.

— Rescheduled the next City Council meeting to Oct. 24, a Thursday, because some city officials and council members will be out of town Tuesday that week. The meeting will still start at 6:30 p.m. with a pre-meeting work session at 5:30 p.m.