By Chris Berendt Staff Writer
February 4, 2014
An alcoholic beverage referendum allowing countywide beer and wine sales will be on the May 6 primary election ballot following a unanimous vote by the Sampson County Board of Commissioners earlier this week.
Since early 2012, the board has entertained the possibility of having an alcoholic beverage election by which beer and wine sales could be put to the voters. Commissioners have detailed the benefits of such an endeavor in boosting revenues for the county and permitting restaurants, grocery stores, motels and other establishments to enhance their operations.
County staff was directed in late 2012 to remind the board of the requirements a little closer to the next eligible election. With the May primary a mere three months away, that time is now.
During the board’s regular meeting Monday, county attorney Joel Starling reviewed the process for calling alcoholic beverage elections under Chapter 18B of the N.C. General Statutes.
“A countywide alcoholic beverage election will not affect municipalities who have already adopted it,” Starling remarked. “If there is a municipality that has already approved a certain type of alcoholic beverage (in an) election, a county election disapproving it doesn’t rob that city of its prior approval. By the same token, if there is a city that hasn’t approved it, and it is approved in the county, it will be approved for the whole county. Once the county has authorized it, individual municipalities cannot prohibit it.”
Clinton, Roseboro, Garland and Newton Grove currently have alcoholic beverage sales, and operate ABC stores. However, Salemburg, Harrells, Turkey and Autryville do not currently permit such sales, and would be the most impacted towns should the referendum pass as they will be stripped of their “dry” status.
The statute allows for four different types of alcoholic beverage elections, including malt beverage, unfortified wine, ABC store and mixed beverage, also known as “liquor by the drink.” More than one kind of alcoholic beverage election may be included in a single request or petition.
Starling focused on malt beverage and unfortified wine.
In order to include mixed beverage on the ballot, he said, ABC stores either have to already be in operation within that particular county or municipality or an ABC proposal has to be on the same ballot.
He presented all possible options concerning malt beverage and unfortified wine sales.
The options for malt beverages include to permit the on-premises and off-premises sale; on-premises only; off-premises only; or on-premises sales of malt beverages by Class A hotels, motels and restaurants only, and permit off-premises sales by other permitees.
Options for unfortified wine include to permit the on-premises and off-premises sale; on-premises only; or off-premises only.
Starling noted the board could put one or all of the seven options on the ballot. On-premises, he noted, refers to establishments including bars, clubs, motels and restaurants. Off-premises refers primarily to grocery stores.
“This is not going to hurt anything,” Commissioner Albert Kirby said. “This is going to help business in the areas that are not developed. Ultimately, it will probably help the county.”
A countywide alcoholic beverage election may be called in one of two ways, Starling said.
The county’s Board of Commissioners can submit a written request to the county’s Board of Elections or a petition requesting an alcoholic beverage election, signed by at least 35 percent of the county’s registered voters, may be submitted to the Board of Elections.
The Board of Elections must give legal notice of the alcoholic beverage election no less than 45 days prior to the special election, and the election may be held only at the same time as any other state, county or municipal general election or at the same time as the primary election in any even-numbered year.
“We’re not dealing with the 60-120 day floating window that we used to deal with,” Starling noted. “This is not necessarily something you have to do tonight, but we wanted to show you the proposed resolution.”
Commissioner Harry Parker noted that adopting such a resolution would also bring more business to areas around I-40 in the Newton Grove area. Kirby made a motion to adopt the resolution, quickly seconded by Parker.
Kirby said he felt all off-premises and on-premises options for both beer and wine should be included and the Statute, so as not to limit the county.
“I don’t want to do anything that would be detrimental to its passing,” board chairman Jefferson Strickland remarked.
“I don’t either,” Lockamy concurred. “I think it’s going to be income. I’ve seen restaurants in the county fail because they couldn’t sell beer or wine. If we act on this, I would be looking forward to hotels, motels and restaurants in these areas of the county that would bring in business.”
Lockamy said he did not want to discrimination against nightclubs or similar establishments, but he wanted to see the referendum pass so that reputable motels, restaurants and stores could have the option of beer and wine sales, which may enhance their revenue — and the county’s as a result.
“I don’t believe it’s going to be an invitation to open up a juke joint, but I do think that we could end up limiting potential revenue sources by not having this as presented by the attorney,” said Kirby. “I would hate that a certain grocery store couldn’t do it, and would be missing that money.”
Should the sale of malt beverages and/or unfortified wine be approved by the voters, the North Carolina ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) Commission may begin issuing permits to qualified persons and establishments, which must meet all state laws that govern those permits.
“They’re still going to have to receive permits from the ABC Boards,” Starling clarified. “It’s not going to be where anyone can just put up a roadside drinking hole. They will have to go through the state permitting process.”
By holding the referendum in conjunction with the primary election, the cost of holding a special election would be avoided.
“This is a cost-saving measure,” Starling said.
The board subsequently adopted Starling’s resolution, serving as a formal written request to the Board of Elections to put the referendum on the ballot.
“Being stewards of the ways of generating income and helping businesses,” said Kirby, “I wouldn’t have any problem letting the (citizens) decide on any adoptions.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.