Petition circulating to put wine, liquor on ballot

Published 12:28 am Sunday, August 6, 2006

Petitions have been circulating in Pearl River County to allow the sale of liquor in Pearl River County, and to allow the sale of beer and light wine county wide, but religious organizations are rallying in an effort to defeat the petitions.

Some local store owners feel they are missing out on a market that only neighboring communities in Louisiana are cashing in on while religious organizations feel the county would only suffer from the sale of alcohol.

Brad Greer, a local business owner, initiated the petitions to allow the distribution, sale, manufacture, storage and receipt of wine and liquor in the county’s two municipalities and to allow the sale of beer and light wine throughout the county, he said. The City of Picayune currently allows the sale of beer and light wine, but the county does not. Beer and light wine — defined as having .5 percent alcohol or less by volume — and liquor and wine are not covered by the sale law, thus requiring two separate petitions, Greer said.

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Wine not defined as light wine generally has an alcohol percentage of 10 to 14 percent.

Greer said while he did get the number of signatures needed to get liquor on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election, he did not get enough signatures for beer and light wine, the one he most wanted on the ballot.

“I’d like to see Poplarville be able to sell beer and wine, I feel like we’re missing revenue on that,” Greer said.

Greer said he may go back and gather the remaining petitions left around the county, but the petitions needed to be in the circuit court clerk’s office by the first week of August since it will take three weeks to verify the names on the petitions, he said.

The petitions were not found inside the city limits of Picayune because Greer said there was not enough support from those merchants since beer and light wine is sold there.

A group called Citizens Action Team is on the opposite side of the issue. CAT vice president Arilis Grice said there will be three rallies in the month of October, unofficial petitions in local churches that will not be turned in to the county but serve as a record of those who will vote against the sale of alcohol, and an Alcohol Awareness Sunday this month at participating churches, all to get those church members backing on CAT’s stand. Grice said he was on the committee about 11 years ago, in 1995, when the liquor issue came up. At that time, those opposing the sale of liquor and wine were successful.

While the outcome was in the religious group’s favor last time, this time he is unsure how this year’s election will go if the referendum makes it on the ballot because of additional people in the county since Hurricane Katrina.

“So we don’t know what their position is going to be on the issue,” Grice said.

Those new people will only have a voice on the issue if they are registered voters in the county.

Many people say that living in a dry county keeps prospective new businesses from coming into the county, Grice said.

“It has been said that we’ll never have good restaurants if you don’t serve alcohol. We counter that comment with the fact that we already have good restaurants,” Grice said referring to the fish houses and Chinese restaurants. Still larger restaurant chains refuse to build in Pearl River County since it is currently dry, Grice concedes.

To get the beer and light wine on a ballot takes more signatures than liquor, said Kathy Waterbury of the Mississippi State Tax Commission. For beer and light wine, there needs to be 20 percent of the entire registered voter signatures on the petition, for liquor there needs to be 20 percent or 1,500 of registered voter signatures, which ever is less, Waterbury said.

The process used to move the current petition forward will require efforts of more than one office, Waterbury said. After the petition has been approved by the circuit court clerk, it is sent to the board of supervisors to call an election. If the election passes in favor of beer and light wine, then the ordinance is sent to the Tax Commission for a 30-day approval process, she said.

If the vote is in favor of liquor, the ordinance is sent to the Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control for a four- to six-week processing period, Waterbury said.

If liquor passes, it can only be sold in the city limits, beer and light wine can be sold anywhere in a wet county, Waterbury said. Some of the taxes collected from alcoholic beverages go back to the county to fund mental health and alcohol programs, Waterbury said. Otherwise, like all taxes, only the municipalities that collect the taxes get their 18-1/2 percent of the sales tax back, Waterbury said.