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Wesson: Reaching out for a cold one? Annexation toward Brookhaven could allow vote on beer sales

An expansion of the Town of Wesson’s city limits may lead to future economic development — the kind that’s sold in bottles and cans, usually in multiples of six.

If the town’s proposed annexation of one mile of Hwy. 51 right-of-way south into Lincoln County is approved in court, citizens there could vote to allow the sale of beer and light wine under the provisions of a 2017 law that lays out how small municipalities may become wet. Wesson Mayor Alton Shaw said beer sales are not the sole reason for the annexation, but acknowledged the planned expansion of the town would make it possible.

“It will leave it open if people want to do a petition,” he said. “It may put us in a position where it’s allowed, but it still has to go through the process.”

Mississippi Code 67-3-9 allows municipalities with populations of at least 1,500 people to hold a referendum on beer sales if the city limits are within three miles of another city where beer is already sold.

The expansion of Wesson — population: 1,891 — would push the city limits south to a point just south of Old St. John Road, and that would be exactly three miles from the northernmost reaches of Brookhaven’s city limits, which end on Hwy. 51 about one half-mile north of Brignall Road.

If the annexation goes through, Wesson citizens would have to petition the board of aldermen with signatures equaling 20 percent of the population — 378 people. A successful petition would require the board to order an election on the sale of wine and beer, and if the sale is approved by majority vote the board would then pass an ordinance permitting it.

If the referendum is defeated, beer-loving citizens would have to wait five years before trying again.

“I don’t even know if it would pass, if anyone could get the signatures to bring it up on a referendum,” Shaw said. “But it’s frustrating not having that option.”

The law allows the sale of wine with an alcoholic content not greater than 5 percent and beer with a content of 8 percent. Liquor is already sold in Wesson due to Copiah County laws.

Beer sales in Wesson would provide extra tax revenue to the town, which has struggled to collect funds since Brookhaven voted to allow the sale of beer and liquor on June 4, 2013. Before then, multitudes of discreet Brookhavenites did big business at Newman’s Package Store — which has since moved shop to Hwy. 51 in Brookhaven — but those heady days ended when the law changed and the crowds stopped coming.

The loss of Lincoln County’s hard drinkers had a sobering effect on Wesson’s tax base. Shaw said the town has been down between $2,000 and $3,000 per month in the almost five years since Brookhaven went wet.

“It’s not just liquor — people would come up here and buy liquor, then they’d stop and get gas or go into a store,” he said. “Anything you sell helps from a tax point of view.”

Wesson has been working on the southward annexation for some time, but bad procedure has cause delays. The legal process continues in chancery court in Copiah County on May 22.

Ward 2 Aldermen Jarrad Ashley said another goal of the annexation is to allow the Wesson Police Department to patrol, roadblock and respond to traffic accidents on Hwy. 51 near Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Speeding tickets are not an option, as state law prohibits police departments in towns with less than 2,000 people from using radar speed detection equipment.