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Beer-sales ban may be on Nov. ballot

MONTICELLO – A local referendum to ban beer sales in town mayappear on the ballot in November, officials said.

The Lawrence County Christian Alliance has submitted a petitionof 1,610 names to halt beer sales, but some questions have arisenabout the statute cited in the petition, Circuit Clerk Cindy Stokessaid.

Under current law, the sale of beer is authorized inside thecity limits but not in the county. Liquor sales are not authorizedanywhere in the county.

The statute cited in the petition addresses “intoxicatingliquor,” County Attorney Malcolm Rogers said.

Whether that particular statute can be used to ban beer saleswhen another statute exists exclusively for beer is a questionRogers said will have to be made at the state level.

“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “The intention is to do awaywith beer. I’m going to send a copy of the petition to the attorneygeneral’s office and the secretary of state’s office to ensure itmeets the requirements.”

According to Rogers, if the attorney general’s office rules thepetition is not proper it will not appear on the ballot and willhave to be corrected and refiled, a lengthy process that would meana delay until the next election.

Election ballots must be printed by Sept. 20 in order to meetthe deadline for the opening of the absentee voting period, Stokessaid, adding that the election commissioners are meeting Sept. 13to prepare the ballot for publication.

“We’re needing to find out something pretty quick,” she said.”It left my hands yesterday. I certified the petition and presentedit to the board of supervisors.”

Rogers said he was aware of the time constraints and would urgethe state offices to rule quickly on the petition.

“I’m going to give it my best shot,” he said. “We’ll do it on anemergency basis and see if we can’t get an answer in time.”

The sale of beer and light wine was approved in the early ’90sin a local referendum, Rogers said. Challenges to the law areallowed every five years.

Should the attorney general approve the petition and it passesin November, the loss of the sales tax on beer would have a majoreffect on the town’s budget, Mayor David Nichols said. He estimatedsales tax on beer alone accounts for $36,000 of town’s total annualsales tax income of $396,000.

“It would be huge,” he said. “That’s two laborers on the streetcrew or the annual payments on the police cars or fire truck. I’mnot saying don’t vote for it because of the effect it has on thecity, but it’s something to consider.”

The passage of the law would also virtually assure a taxincrease the next year, he said.

“That’s money we lost that would have to be made up somewhere,”he said. “If a beer referendum went through and passed, there is noway the city could not have a tax increase the next year.”

He estimated the town would have to increase taxes about 3 millsjust to replace the money lost to beer sales. A mill is equal to $1for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

Rogers discounted rumors that the petition, as it stands, couldopen the town to liquor sales if it is included on the ballot andfailed to pass.

“I don’t read it that way,” he said, adding that he would alsoseek clarification on that from the attorney general’s office.