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September 24, 2010

Beer, wine petition circulating

Proponents believe taxes drop in cities selling these alcoholic beverages

ATHENS — A group of Athens citizens have filed an application with the Henderson County election administrator for a petition for the sale of beer and wine in Athens.

The committee has been circulating the petitions in Wal-Mart and Brookshire’s stores the past week. According to Billy Horton of Hardcount, Inc. of Austin, a firm that was hired to advise the group, the petition must have 805 signatures for the proposition to go before the voters in the May election.

“There is vital information about how the sale of beer and wine has dropped tax rates in other cities, and has increased the local economy,” Horton said. “We are about halfway to our goal of getting the 805 signatures, so the committee feels like this is something needed in the community.”

In the Sign On For Athens paperwork, the committee is currently circulating, it states “It is imperative that we have uniform business regulations in order to create an environment for stimulating healthy economic growth. We should make certain that a competitive business environment exists throughout the area, so that growth and development will occur equally.”

Horton says that he knows for a fact that in Jacksonville, the taxes fell a great deal after they started selling beer and wine.

“We have documentation that shows where their taxes dropped, once they started selling beer and wine,” he said. “They also have had more offers for new restaurants in town.”

Signing the application for the petition were Janice Aaron, Lynda Martin, Virginia Harris, Billy Harris, Barbara Harris, Bill Cain, Lynn Isabell, Laurie Berry, Melissa Marshall and Kerry Marshall.

The group is hoping to not only get the beer and wine sales in stores in Athens, they are looking to change the way it is sold in restaurants. Currently customers can only buy beer and wine in Athens restaurants if they have a membership.

“They feel like you shouldn’t have to have a membership to get a drink while you are eating dinner,” Horton said. “By changing these laws, we will keep more of our grocery and retail sales in Athens supporting local businesses.”

Horton says that for every dollar lost in beer and wine sales, a grocery store loses $3 in additional sales. He said those tax dollars can generate and stay in Athens to help build roads, parks and improve the quality of life.

Athens City Manager Pam Burton said she has heard of the petitions going around, but that it has nothing to do with the City of Athens.

“We don’t have anything to do with that,” Burton said. “That is something the county handles. It won’t be a city election. It will be  handled through the county.”

Henderson County Election Administrator Denise Hernandez said the group did file the application, and that they have 60 days to come back with the signatures for it to be on the May ballot.

The committee’s paperwork mentions cities like Malakoff, Chandler, Bullard and Jacksonville and Smith County. Jacksonville and Malakoff did vote yes for the sale of beer and wine, but Bullard and Smith County are still in the election process. Chandler officials say they don’t know anything about a petition being circulated there.

The Sign On For Athens paperwork states that by altering the law regulating restaurants, it will eliminate the requirement that a restaurant has to be a “private club” in order to serve alcohol. It state this is a “nuisance for customers, and a major expense for restaurants to maintain.”

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