It appears that the voters of Simpson County may finally be able to decide whether they want alcoholic beverages to be served in Simpson County.
Monday afternoon all 1,500 signatures had been collected to legally place the initiative on the November ballot. As of Monday morning five additional signatures were needed. Circuit Clerk Steve Womack said he had been told by Brien Hubbard, Magee resident and supporter of the referendum, that additional signatures would be gathered to exceed the required number to place the issue on the ballot.
State law requires that 1,500 signatures, or 20 percent of the registered voters, whichever is less, are required to use the ballot initiative.
Last year an initiative to place liquor on the ballot failed because of lack of certified voter signatures. Over 1,500 signatures were turned in, but only about 1,250 were validated and the deadline came and went without enough signatures from actual registered voters. The validated signatures were banked until enough could be collected.
Magee’s Mayor Dale Berry had been a driving force behind the first ballot initiative.
Simpson County is considered a “dry” county despite the fact that beer and light wine can be sold in Magee and Mendenhall. It can also be sold in restaurants provided they apply for a permit to do so in Magee or Mendenhall. Simpson County is one of 36 counties that allow the sale of beer despite the county being officially “dry.”
Several nearby counties are dry but allow alcohol to be sold. Smith County just approved alcohol sales, including hard liquor. Covington County is dry, but liquor can be sold in the city of Collins. The same is true for Rankin and Lawrence counties. They are dry but can sell liquor.
Hinds, Copiah and Jefferson Davis counties are all “wet,” allowing liquor to be sold. That makes alcohol available at all contiguous counties to Simpson County.
The next step in the process here is to go to the Simpson County Board of Supervisors and for them to call for an election on the issue. While the liquor vote is deemed a special election, it could be placed on the ballot for the November General Election. The goal of backers of alcohol sales is for this process not to require a special election because of the cost associated with holding a special election.
The issue was brought to the Board of Supervisors last year in a special called meeting to call for the initiative. While there were not enough signatures to do so at the time, the board seemed supportive of allowing the voters the right to decide.
If the issue is placed on the ballot this year and fails to be approved it can not come up again for two years.
There has been long standing support of legalizing alcohol sales from the economic development arena because it could attract additional business to the community. However, the same claim was made about beer sales, which passed but have not resulted in noticeably more business activity.
We feel that the same thing may result from legalizing other alcohol sales. While it may make it easier for those who want to purchase alcohol locally, it probably is not going to have a profound effect on the economy.
The crux of business support comes from the idea that a national franchise, such as a major restaurant chain, would not consider locating in Simpson County if it does not allow alcohol sales.
When this issue surfaced last time many churches launched a grass roots effort to meet and oppose alcohol sales. We believe this will happen again. We just hope it doesn’t become an issue that splits our community.
Granted, the sale of alcohol is not worth a single life or accident that may have been prevented had alcohol not been available. But it also goes back to the fact that if you want alcohol you are going to buy it somewhere and bring it here.
Voters have supported recent elections for alcohol sales and while we do not know or recall all the results, here is what we do know: Raleigh now sells alcohol as does Collins. Clarke County recently approved the sale of beer by a large margin.
The paper’s position is this: We feel the voters are the only ones who have the right to decide.