Voters trek to polls again, this time on liquor vote

Published 12:32 am Sunday, November 7, 2010

Picayune voters will trek to the polls for the second time in a week on Tuesday, this time to cast ballots on whether or not to allow liquor-by-the-drink to be served in restaurants with food.

There are five polling places in Picayune: Fire Station No. 1 on Adcox Road, the Criminal Justice Center on Main Street, the National Guard Armory on U.S. 11, South Side Elementary School Rosa Street entrance, and the high school auditorium.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

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Only voters registered inside the city limits can cast ballots in the race. The proposition applies only to the City of Picayune, and has nothing to do with the county.

A vote for designating Picayune a resort status, is a vote for allowing restaurants to serve liquor-by-the-drink. A vote against the resort status, is a vote not to allow the serving of liquor in Picayune. A simple majority, 50 percent plus one vote, wins.

Opponents of the proposition say that it will not help the community economically, and will add to policing costs and will cause an increase in DUIs, traffic injuries, deaths and increase alcohol dependency.

Proponents say the city is losing tax revenue to Louisiana and Gulf Coast restaurants because residents travel there for upscale dining and then shop. They say adopting the proposition would keep more residents eating and shopping here at home, and say that okaying liquor-by-the-drink would help attract big name chain restaurants to Picayune. As to dependency, they say individuals must show personal restraint in any endeavor.

There has been little debate on the issue. Usually, the church group mounts a big campaign push on liquor issues but that was missing this time. First Baptist Pastor Keith Warden said most church pastors will address the issue in their Sunday sermons.

The latest vote marks twice within a year forces have mounted drives for putting the issue on the ballot. This time, the latest one was successful.

 The first drive last fall fizzled; however, a group named the “Picayune Committee for Community Development” picked up the effort, garnered the needed signatures and got it placed on the ballot at the Oct. 5 council meeting.

The drive was headed by local businessman A.P. Guizerix, Jr., who appeared at the council meeting but made no statement to the council. Afterward, he told the Item, “I undertook this task because I have seen Picayune hit hard by the recession and by doing this, it will help us recover and bring in jobs and construction that will help us. It is an economic issue with me.”

Also, Guizerix said the proposed effort was a good compromise for those who did not want liquor stores and stand-alone bars. Under the law, only restaurants with a certain percentage of sales derived from food, a true restaurant, will be allowed to serve liquor along with a meal.

The original legislation allowing for the vote was pushed through the State Legislature by State Sen. Sid Albritton, who told the Item at the time that he did it for economic reasons. He said he believed it would help stimulate the local economy.

Others against it said the legislative maneuver was just a way of getting around the law. State Rep. Mark Formby maintained that if a vote on liquor were to be held, it should be held countywide like the last time, not just in Picayune.

The bill that passed the legislature also allowed similar votes in other areas of Mississippi, not only in Picayune.

Flowood, whose businesses were behind the measure, voted on the issue immediately after the adoption of the law and it passed.

Flowood has a much larger population density surrounding the city than Picayune. Flowood is right across the Pearl River from metropolitan Jackson.

Picayune is about between 15,000 and 20,000 population set in a county with about 57,000 population.

Local businessman J.P. Burns, in a letter to the Item last week, argued that the adoption of the proposition here would not help the city attract larger restaurant chains, that they first take into consideration population figures, which he said, dictates where they put a restaurant.

However, proponents still maintain that new restaurants and businesses would locate here if liquor-by-the-drink were available. Guizerix says a  Ramada Inn in 1966 took an option on land he owned at Exit 4 and canceled the deal when the county voted dry. “They moved to Slidell, and it was 1988 when Walmart located on that side of I-59 before development began there,” he said. “It does matter and it does have an impact on business decisions by the large chains.”

The Picayune Item has editorially endorsed the proposition. Neither the chamber or any businesses have taken a stand on it. The Picayune City Council, nor any of its members, have taken a stand one way or the other.

Some business people will talk off-the-record, and some say they fear saying on-the-record they favor liquor because they are afraid “the church people” will stop shopping with them.

In a mail out encouraging residents not to sign the petition, Roseland Park Baptist Church pastor Jimmy Albritton wrote that people “genuinely looking for answers to Picayune’s problems” look for passage of the resort law to attract big restaurants. “We respectfully disagree that ‘resort’ status is the guaranteed answer,” said the mail out.

The mail out pointed to McComb and Pearl as examples where liquor is not helping to attract large restaurant chains, and quoted former Picayune Item publisher Dave Sims, who no longer is associated with the Item, “Liquor isn’t the pivotal issue for very many businesses considering a move here. It’s about the market.”

If the measure passes, that will be only the beginning.

Then the city council will have to draft an ordinance delineating how the resort status is to be implemented and how it is to be managed.

Picayune officials have been in touch with Flowood officials, sources said this week, in case Picayune “goes wet.” Picayune officials are looking at the Flowood ordinance as a guideline for possible implementation here.

The mayor of Flowood, Mayor Gary Rhoads, said that Flowood, with the backing of business people and citizens, adopted a tough ordinance. It gives the Flowood board authority to pull any liquor license, no matter what the state beverage board does, if the council believes the ordinance is not being obeyed.