One of only three dry counties in the State is having an alcohol referendum
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
Promises of prosperity have residents in two North Carolina communities looking to alcohol sales for an economic boost, while opponents work to educate voters about the high societal cost of one of the nation’s most abused drugs.
“When you look at the tax dollars involved, alcohol sales just do not pay off,” said the Rev. Chris Rumfelt, pastor of First Free Will Baptist Church of Hayesville. “It costs $70,000 just to employ one police officer. Plus you have the costs of counselors, Social Service costs and other expenses to take care of the problems alcohol causes.”
Rumfelt is a member of Clay County Not for Sale, a group opposing the four alcohol issues to be decided Aug. 18 in this Southwestern Tar Heel county, one of only three in the state that have remained dry.
Voters in the Guilford County town of Stokesdale will decide a mixed-drink referendum this fall.
Making the push for on – and off-premise sales of malt beverages and wine, the operation of ABC stores and the sale of liquor by the drink is a group called Keep Tax Dollars in Clay County, which gathered enough signatures to demand the referendum.
“This group was deceptive in how they started. They would just say ‘Let’s Keep Tax Money in Clay County’ and in small print have the items to be voted on,” the Rev. Rumfelt said. “I think a lot of people signed the petition and didn’t really know what they were signing.”
Ironically, the special election scheduled when Keep Tax Dollars in Clay County gathered nearly 3,000 signatures will cost taxpayers some $20,000 to $25,000 according to the Clay County Progress newspaper.
Nonetheless, proponents of the measures say that Clay is missing out on tax revenue when residents cross county lines to buy alcohol. According to the group’s Web site, with beer and wine sales and liquor by the drink, they expect more local jobs as well as revenue to “fill the coffers” with funding to support the local school and social services.
Opponents are writing letters to the editor and trying to spread the word about the downside that the sales will bring — increased crime, higher auto insurance premiums and rising social service costs.
“They keep talking about Cherokee County bringing in tax dollars, but they can check the records. Not one penny of that goes to help their schools,” Rumfelt said.
He and the Rev. Charles Shelton, pastor of Moss Memorial Baptist, are among leaders of Clay County Not for Sale, which plans to offer voters against the referendum rides to the polls on election day. Anyone interested in helping oppose the alcohol push may contact Rumfelt at (828) 361-4090.
Another Referendum in Stokesdale
Further east, in Stokesdale, the Town Council voted 3-2 earlier this month to put ABC stores and liquor by the drink on the November ballot. The vote was a reversal of the decision made by the group some eight months ago.
The town already has beer and wine sales, both on- and off-premise. A number of public hearing speakers opposed to the added sales had at first swayed the council against the vote. But in a meeting last week they decided to revisit the referendums, which are now set for Nov. 3.
According to the state Board of Elections, there are just over 3,000 voters in Stokesdale. Oct. 9 is the last day residents can register to vote in the referendum.
Among those leading the opposition to mixed drinks in the town are the Rev. Jerry Walker, pastor of Oak Level Baptist, and Danny Beeson, a member of the church.
Beeson said this week that he hopes Stokesdale residents are keeping an eye on what is happening less than 50 miles away in Asheboro, where voters welcomed alcohol sales — beer, wine, ABC stores and liquor by the drink — last summer. The town’s first nightclub had its ribbon cutting this week.
“We’ve tried to warn our council members here in Stokesdale that if the people vote it in, they are not voting in just restaurants, but they will be opening the door to other kinds of establishments to come in,” Beeson said. ABC records show roughly 70 active permits issued in Asheboro with more than half for off-premise sales, around 10 for mixed beverage restaurants and about a half dozen for sports clubs or private clubs.
The Rev. Walker, who had spoken against the referendum at the public hearing, has been out of town but will be back and working to help organize opposition to mixed drinks in Stokesdale. Beeson said anyone interested in getting involved should call Walker at (336) 643-9288.