Liquor referendum set for June 4 vote

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Come June, liquor will be on the ballot.

Organizers of a petition requesting a referendum on the sale of alcohol within the Brookhaven city limits have reached the threshold to trigger a referendum, City Clerk Mike Jinks told aldermen at their Tuesday night meeting.

The referendum will be on the June 4 ballot along with municipal elections, Jinks said.

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“We talked to the secretary of state’s office and we cannot have the election on the primary; it will have to be on the general ballot,” Jinks said.

State law requires at least 30 days notice be given of the referendum election. By holding it on June 4 with municipal elections, the city can avoid the costs of a special election, said Mayor Les Bumgarner.

Only city residents may participate in the referendum. A new state law passed last year allowed cities to hold alcohol referendum with no participation from county residents.

Kathy Behan, one of the primary organizers behind the petition effort, took a moment Wednesday to reflect on the success so far.

“I’m so relieved to be done,” Behan said. “It’s been a long six months.”

What lies ahead is what really matters, though.

“I hope there are more that are for it and want to move Brookhaven forward,” she said.

Behan did offer cautious optimism the referendum will pass. She also plans to remain involved and help campaign for the referendum’s passage, though she’s not yet sure what that will involve.

However, she said the process is now out of her hands in many ways.

“The town is going to decide what they want no matter what I do,” she said. “My goal was just to allow the people to decide.”

Along with selecting their choices for city offices on the June 4 ballot, voters will be faced with the option of selecting “For the legal sale of alcoholic liquors” or “Against the legal sale of alcoholic liquors.”

Beer may currently be sold within the city limits, but not alcohol. If the majority of voters approve alcohol sales, the city board would be tasked with drafting an ordinance governing alcohol sales.

Aldermen would have the option of either restricting alcohol to by the glass sales in restaurants or allowing package stores.

Alcohol and beer sales would remain barred in the county.

Behan said she would be fine with “all of it,” including package stores. However, she acknowledged the prevailing attitude may push the other way.

“What I really want is more restaurants,” Behan said. “I think the general sentiment is people want liquor by the glass, and they don’t want to go all the way yet.”

To have a successful petition on liquor sales, organizers in a city need signatures from 20 percent of registered voters.

In Brookhaven, that threshold was 1,834 out of 9,168 registered voters.

Jinks told aldermen Tuesday his office has verified 1,892 signatures thus far, with more remaining.

“We’ll verify the rest as a courtesy, but we could stop now,” Jinks said.