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Liquor vote talk starting to stir in community

Brookhaven aldermen – and apparently some citizens – are talking about a possible referendum on allowing liquor sales in the city, but the issue seems to be some distance away before coming up for a vote.

     The recent talk around town comes in the wake of the passage of a state law earlier this year to allow cities of at least 5,000 population in dry counties to have elections on whether to allow the sale of alcohol.

     In order to have a vote, a petition with the signatures of at least 20 percent of the qualified electorate must be submitted to the municipality’s governing body. For Brookhaven, that number would be a little more than 1,900 signatures.

     The state law says an election on the liquor question can be held no more than once every two years.

     Once a petition has been successfully submitted and signatures verified, 30 days’ notice must be given before an election is held. The options to appear on the ballot would include “For the legal sale of alcoholic liquors” or “Against the legal sale of alcoholic liquors.”

     If a majority of the voters vote for the sale of liquor, then the municipal governing authority – in this case the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen – “shall pass the necessary order permitting the legal sale of such alcoholic beverages in such municipality,” according to the law.

     In creating that “necessary order” – or ordinance – the aldermen would be charged with the task of determining how the sale of alcohol would proceed within the city. Various options could be considered at that point.

     The default option for legalized liquor sales, according to District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, is the sale of wine and liquor by the glass at restaurants or bars and the opening of package stores in a community. He said the aldermen would have to specifically vote to preclude package stores from opening as a result of the newly approved measure.

     Moak indicated much of the decision-making as far as particular issues would be up to aldermen based on the advice of their legal counsel.

     Furthermore, while state laws govern package store activities, Moak said alcohol service hours for bars and restaurants would be governed by the local ordinance passed by the aldermen. The local ordinance also would determine whether Sunday liquor sales were allowed or not and how late in the evening alcohol could be served. The granting or denying of liquor sales licenses to restaurants and bars also would be governed locally.

     In other words, liquor sales in stores, if allowed, fall under state jurisdiction, but liquor sales by the drink would be under city governance through the local ordinance.

     Given that the details could impact the fate of a liquor referendum, aldermen may want to make their ideas known in the form of resolution before a vote is held. Such a statement could be included when the issue is put to voters.

     “They may want to tell the folks what their intentions are,” Moak said about aldermen and the possibility of package stores.

     Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron mentioned the liquor referendum issue during Tuesday night’s board meeting. He was not advocating a vote, but did express concerns about revenue lost to McComb because of Brookhaven restaurants’ inability to serve wine and other alcoholic beverages.

     “I’m not saying say we do it,” Cameron said. “I’m just stirring the pot.”

     Ward Four Alderman Shirley Estes added she has heard discussion about the topic.

     “It’s being talked about all over town,” she said.

     At this point, no one has made known any formal, organized effort to bring forth a referendum on liquor sales in Brookhaven. But if the talk brewing around town turns to action, then the aldermen will have some decisions to make.

     Which puts aldermen in a pickle. Such an election is sure to be controversial, and with city elections coming in 2013, city voters may have added incentives to support or not support certain candidates.