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Liquor vote gets closer to the ballot

A petition to force a vote on legalizing liquor sales within Brookhaven has edged almost to completion, with about 90 percent of the required signatures.

Kathy Behan, an organizer behind the petition, is confident she’ll have netted the requisite total relatively soon.

“Definitely by the first or second week in March,” Behan said. “I don’t think it will be any later than that. I hope it’s sooner.”

Officials with the city clerk’s office said that as of Friday afternoon, the clerk’s office has verified 1,687 signatures as valid.

Based on current voter rolls, a total of 1,819 signatures are needed to require a referendum on allowing alcohol sales in Brookhaven.

According to a state law passed last year, 20 percent of registered voters living within the city limits must sign the petition.

If there’s a referendum on the issue, a majority of voters must back legal liquor sales for the referendum to be successful.

City aldermen would have the option of limiting alcohol to by-the-glass sales in restaurants or to allow package stores.

The petition’s forward movement toward the finish line has also prompted the Brookhaven/Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce to begin trying to determine whether the membership of the organization wants to stake out a public stance on the issue.

An email from chamber president Pat Lowery was sent to chamber membership Thursday, requesting input.

“It’s just asking the members do you want to talk about it, or do you want to sit on the sidelines?” Lowery said when asked about the survey.

Lowery, the 2013 chamber president, said he hasn’t received enough feedback to determine the consensus of chamber members.

“I thought the time was right (to ask),” he said, pointing to the seeming imminence of a successful petition and subsequent vote. “There seems to be some inevitability to it.”

The survey asked chamber members whether they wanted the business advocacy group to speak publicly either in support or opposition of legalized liquor sales.

Barring that, and supposing a vote that opens the door to liquor in Brookhaven, the survey asks whether the chamber should stake out a stance on the question of package stores versus restaurant sales.

The chamber will take completed surveys from its membership through Feb. 27.

Behan began collecting signatures requesting a vote on alcohol sales in September of last year, but by January had only reached the halfway point.

She credits increased participation with the accelerated pace.

“I’ve got a bigger group of people that are helping,” she said.

Once an approved petition is presented to city aldermen, the board must schedule a date for the referendum. There must be advance notice of least 30 days that the referendum will occur.

If petition organizers wanted the referendum to occur alongside the June 4 general elections to maximize turnout, as they’ve previously discussed, the petition would have to be completed by late April.

However, Behan floated the idea that holding the referendum prior to city elections might have some merit.

“I know this board is for it,” she said. “You never know what the next board will do.”

Not all sitting aldermen have publicly stated an opinion the matter. Ward Three Alderman Wary Wilson routinely votes against granting beer permits to retailers and restaurants as allowed under current law.

If voters do approve a referendum to allow alcohol sales, a board doesn’t seem to have the authority to reverse the decision, only to decide whether package stores will be allowed.

The referendum on liquor sales is being sought by proponents under a law enacted last year allowing county seats and cities of a population greater than 5,000 to vote on the matter.