North Mississippi mayor sees no effect from liquor

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Legal liquor’s coming to Brookhaven and proponents of the referendum that made it so are hoping for good things – new restaurants perhaps – while opponents of the move have suggested negatives could loom on the horizon – a possible increase in drunk driving, crime and other social ills.

In the far northern part of Mississippi, it’s been several months since Corinth became the first Mississippi city to legalize liquor sales through a new law allowing municipalities to vote alone on the issue.

When Corinth Mayor Tommy Irwin takes stock of recent trends since liquor sales began in his city in February, he doesn’t think much has changed.

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“It’s been a neutral effect,” the mayor said.

The mayor said he hasn’t noted any kind of increase in crime or DUIs that have caught his attention.

“From January to right now, I haven’t seen anything that has really jumped out and said wow, we’ve got a monster,” Irwin said.

But there’s been no visible benefits the mayor could point to.

“I hope to see a positive impact,” said Irwin. “As of this moment, I have not.”

Sales tax returns haven’t experienced a noticeable spike.

City Clerk Vickie Roach estimated that approximately 10 or 11 liquor stores have opened in Corinth since the referendum. Corinth has a population of approximately 14,000.

The mayor hopes the city will begin reaping a sales tax boost from the added businesses. While sales tax numbers haven’t shown much movement, yet, reports lag several months behind the actual collection date.

“We feel like this coming sales tax report will start showing some positive signs,” said Irwin.

No new restaurants have located in the city, but several of the restaurants already in place have begun to serve alcohol.

Irwin pointed out, though, that liquor sales remain only a few months old and he feels potential positives like increased tax revenue from the liquor stores or interest from new restaurants will take a while to accrue.

Corinth held the first city-only liquor vote on Dec. 11 last year. About 70 percent of voters backed legalizing liquor with 30 percent opposing.

Brookhaven’s referendum produced similar results, with 69 percent of voters supporting the sale of liquor and 31 percent against those sales.

Following the vote, Corinth aldermen adopted an ordinance governing liquor and wine sales on Jan. 2.

The first liquor store opened in late February, estimated the city clerk.

Like Brookhaven, Corinth already allowed beer sales. Unlike Brookhaven, Corinth has had legal liquor in the past before a referendum turned the county dry in 1989l

In the lead up to last year’s referendum, Irwin, who’s been in office since 2010, said he took no position on the issue.

“I don’t think a mayor should take a position on it,” he said. “I tried to stay out. A mayor represents both sides of that issue.”

Irwin said there was no serious consideration by the six-member board of aldermen given to banning package stores and restricting alcohol to by-the-glass sales in restaurants.

What was contended on the board was whether to allow sales on Sunday.

“I was not for selling alcohol on Sunday,” he said. “I lost that battle. I thought, you get all the booze you want Monday through Saturday.”

It seems likely the new Brookhaven board of aldermen, which takes office in July, will have the task of determining how to regulate alcohol sales in the city.

Irwin doesn’t necessarily see Corinth as a model, but encourages municipalities like Brookhaven weighing the issue to look to their local context.

“What I think you should do is really look at the character and face of your community,” Irwin said. “What we do here does not mean it would be good for some other place.”