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Dry Since 1949 – Clay County Goes Wet

Old Clay County CourthouseBy L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League

HAYESVILLE — Clay County — where alcohol sales had been banned since 1949 — opened the door to malt beverage and wine sales, an ABC store and liquor by the drink with a special election last month. Beer hit the shelves of at least one convenience store just eight days after the vote.

Despite the efforts of Clay County Not for Sale, a group of concerned residents who tried to spread the word about the societal costs of alcohol, the issues passed roughly 61 to 39 percent. Just over half of the county’s 8,659 voters cast ballots, with many alcohol proponents going to the polls prior to the Aug. 18 election.

“I’m afraid the group behind this effort, Coalition to Keep Tax Dollars in Clay County, may have led people to believe that alcohol sales will be an economic panacea and that is truly never the case,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “The costs and problems associated with increased alcohol consumption outweigh any benefits.” 

The Rev. Chris Rumfelt, pastor of First Free Will Baptist Church of Hayesville, had warned prior to the vote that the community would spend more in law enforcement, counselors, social services and other expenses to address the problems alcohol causes than alcohol excise taxes would bring in. Charlie Shelton, another member of Clay County Not For Sale, told the Clay County Progress after the election that “we’ll have to deal with the aftermath as it comes up.”

At least one convenience store owner, Clay Logan, owner of Clay’s Corner in Brasstown, told the newspaper he won’t  be selling alcohol because, “I have too many of my grandchildren around.”

Both groups seemed surprised by the referendum margin.

One of three dry counties in the state prior to the vote, Clay County had last put alcohol sales on the ballot nearly 20 years ago, when the outcome was exactly the opposite according to media reports. Last month’s vote leaves North Carolina with only two dry counties, Graham and Yancey.

The Clay County vote came just two months after another alcohol referendum in nearby Swain County where members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted to approve alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

Coming soon is a chance for voters in Stokesdale, N.C. to have their say about alcohol sales. The Town Council of this Guilford County municipality voted 3-2 to put ABC stores and liquor by the drink on the November ballot. Oct. 9 is the last day residents can register to vote in the referendum.

Take Christian Action
: Anyone interested in getting involved in the opposition efforts may contact the Rev. Jerry Walker, pastor of Oak Level Baptist Church, at (336) 643-9288.