Board goes ‘off’ on alcohol sales

By Chris Berendt Staff Writer

March 6, 2014

An alcoholic beverage referendum slated for the May 6 ballot has been scaled down, with Sampson voters given a simple choice — for or against off-premises sales of malt beverage and the same option for unfortified wine.

The board voted unanimously last month to place the alcoholic beverage referendum regarding countywide beer and wine sales on the May 6 primary election ballot.

However, the board’s resolution was to include all propositions available in the N.C. statutes regarding malt beverage and unfortified wine, including off-premises only for both, on-premises only for both, both on and off-premises for both and the on-premises sale of malt beverages by Class A hotels, motels and restaurants only, and off-premises by other permittees.

That has now been scrapped for a more user-friendly, but considerably narrowed, choice.

With the advertisement for the election not published as of yet, Chairman Jefferson Strickland asked that the resolution be included in this week’s agenda for further consideration, notably the removal of certain provisions for “on-premises” sales.

“I think we need to keep it just as simple as we can,” said Commissioner Billy Lockamy. “I feel like it is not only for the county, it’s money for the businesses in the county. I think we need to keep it just as simple as possible. It’s complicated.”

Lockamy and other commissioners said they had received numerous calls, not so much from those in opposition, but seeking clarification from what may look like a convoluted choice on the ballot.

“For malt beverages, you can list up to all four of these or only one of them if that’s what you want to do,” said county attorney Joel Starling. “You can mix and match any combination of them that you choose to submit.”

Commissioner Albert Kirby, reiterating his thoughts from last month, said he felt all off-premises and on-premises options for both beer and wine should be included so as not to limit the county and put it to the citizens to decide.

“I think it’s going to complicate things,” said Lockamy. “I say we just put for beer and for wine — put two on there.”

Lockamy has shared his desire to see the referendum pass so 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. He said he did not want to see juke joints.

“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 (provision in full),” Kirby has said, noting all options should be included.

He pulled back this week, saying that if the board wished to narrow the options, he could go along with that.

“I would like to see the restaurants (have on-premises sales) and liquor by the drink, but I’m afraid we’re going to throw too much at the public at one time,” Lockamy remarked. “We’re all in agreement that we want it, we just have to figure out how we need to get it worded to get it passed.”

They brought their focus to the “off-premises” sale only of malt beverages and unfortified wine

According to the N.C. Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, an off-premises malt beverage permit authorizes the retail sale of malt beverages and unfortified wine in the manufacturer’s original container for consumption off the premises and it authorizes the holder of the permit to ship malt beverages in closed containers to individual purchasers inside and outside the state.

Those “off-premises” permits can be issued to restaurants, hotels, dining establishments, food businesses and retail businesses, the N.C. ABC Commission states on its website.On-premises, he noted, refers to establishments including bars, clubs, motels and restaurants. Off-premises refers primarily to grocery stores.

“You can have off-premises then, as time passes, if people wanted to you could come back and do others,” said Strickland. “I think off-premises on both beer and wine is a simple way to approach it. It eliminates a lot of the perceived problems associated with it.”

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.

Starling has noted that a countywide alcoholic beverage election will not affect municipalities who have already adopted it.

“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,” he has noted. “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 board voted unanimously in favor of including the “off-premises” options for beer and wine. There is a 45-day notice requirement prior to the May 6 municipal election to get the referendum on the ballot.

Lockamy said it was his hope that a favorable “off-premises” vote would give way for a similar “on-premises” vote in the future.

“If we get this passed,” he said, “I think it will be easier to get the rest of them.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at