By Chris Berendt Staff Writer
March 26, 2014
With two towns having officially voiced opposition to countywide alcohol sales, and two others mulling the prospect, local church leaders urged the community to rally against the May 6 referendum “for the sake of all that is good and wholesome in your community.”
Town boards in Turkey and Salemburg expressed their unanimous opposition to countywide sales of beer and wine within days of each other last week, both adopting resolutions to that effect. Harrells is not reportedly leaning in the same direction, while Autryville town leaders have taken up the topic, but not adopted a resolution.
Autryville town clerk Diane Autry said the town has looked into its history, one that founded the town as its own sovereign entity. That charter would be subject to change should the referendum for countywide alcohol sales pass. The board talked about the subject at its regular meeting last week.
“They touched on it briefly when we met this month,” said Autry, who noted that the town’s charter, drawn up before 1916, notes that the county cannot come into the town on various matters. “My understanding from the League of Municipalities is if they do allow it, our charter would have to be changed. If the county’s wet, then the town could have it.”
Harrells town clerk Cindy Ezzell said the town is not currently planning on adopting a resolution. However, the board will meet Tuesday for its regular meeting, during which the matter could potentially be discussed.
“I don’t think we are thinking the same way as (Salemburg and Turkey),” said Ezzell, who noted it would ultimately be up to the board. “We actually have had some residents approach us wanting (alcohol sales).”
Calls to Autryville Mayor Pat Williams and a message for Harrells Mayor Jim Moore were not immediately returned.
While Clinton, Roseboro, Garland and Newton Grove currently have alcoholic beverage sales, and operate ABC stores, Turkey, Salemburg, Harrells 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.
On Tuesday night, a rally was was held at the Clinton Community Church by the newly-formed referendum committee, Sampson Citizens for the Prevention of Countywide Alcohol Sales.
Mark Creech, director of the N.C. Christian Action League, called the prospect of countywide alcohol sales a “truly critical moment” for Sampson. He called on the close to 70 in attendance to “protect the moral climate in your community … and protect the public’s health” by voting against the May 6 referendum.
“Alcohol is America’s number one drug problem. It is a drug that claims more addicts than any other drug in our country. Amazingly, it is the one drug that is accepted as legitimate by the vast majority of Americans,” Creech stated.
Citing various studies, Creech pointed to massive alcohol-related expenses and adverse health and social effects that far outweigh any revenue benefits that might be realized from it. Among the studies, he said the Alcohol/Drug Council of North Carolina reports that for every $1 generated in tax revenue from alcohol sales in the state, there is a corresponding expenditure of $21.42 to “clean up the mess that alcohol makes.” Also, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, someone is killed every 51 minutes from drunk driving crashes, which injure someone every 90 seconds, Creech read.
“In what other area of life are we so willfully blind?” the Christian Action League director remarked.
He said moderation was not a solution. Abstinence from alcohol was.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the consumption of alcohol in any amount is harmful to the individual in the long run,” said Creech.
Creech and many others spoke Tuesday in an effort to rally opposition against the May 6 countywide alcohol referendum.
The Sampson County Board of Commissioners unanimously decided to give voters the choice on that ballot whether to permit or oppose off-premises sales of both malt beverages and unfortified wine. Commissioners touted the move as a way to drum up more tax revenue, as well as another avenue for local businesses — notably retail businesses such as grocery and convenience stores — to make more money.
While commissioners have shared their hopes of the revenue assistance the county would receive as a result, the decision is is left up to the public. Those in opposition to the measure said alcohol is already available in several of the county’s municipalities and does not have to be more accessible, which could lead to more problems.
“There are always those who are contending for greater accessibility of alcohol beverages. They always argue that it will produce an economic boon, that it will generate more tax revenue, that it will set up the community for economic growth, that it will provide new fine-dining establishments, new jobs and avail for new opportunities,” Creech asserted. “Greater accessibility always creates greater consumption levels resulting in greater alcohol-related problems.”
More alcohol outlets means more alcohol density and availability, which means more consumption, Creech attested. Regardless of their stance on the issue, mom and pop stores will feel the need to add beer and wine sales so they do not lose a competitive edge against others and risk going out of business.
“If Sampson County approves this referendum for countywide beer and wine sales, you will have numerous points of purchase all over this county,” said Creech. “When that happens, you have more drinking because it is more accessible. The problems you already have in your community are significantly exasperated. That is not the railings of some fundamentalist Baptist preacher. That is the science of how it works.”
Creech encouraged those in attendance at the rally to, in turn, urge their churches to rally in opposition and even take up offerings that could be used toward advertising against the measure. He explained to those gathered that it was OK, even during an election, to gather support against the referendum in that way, as it did not involve endorsing or opposing a particular person or party affiliation.
“Defeating this referendum in Sampson County is in the best interest of the public’s health in Sampson County,” Creech implored, “for the sake of all that is good and wholesome in your community, for the safety of the people you love and for the sake of the public’s health.”
The Rev. Tony Moore, a Turkey Council member and co-chair of the referendum committee, implored people to volunteer their time to make telephone calls, register people to vote, get people to the polls and give monetarily toward the cause. All fundraising would be public record and reported to the Board of Elections, he said.
“This is not a fight we wanted to take up, but one we felt compelled to take up,” said Moore, “but I’m tired of sitting around watching our communities go to hell in a hand basket, and we’re seeing that happen. It’s not just a matter of being against alcohol. Alcohol is already here in certain communities, but why should we have it go on across our county? I can’t see where our Lord and Savior would be for more alcohol density in Sampson County.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.