Sunday, February 21, 2010

Booze ballot battle

Are Sunday liquor sales good for the economy or another road to perdition? You’ll decide
By Catherine Godbey, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily

The date is set and the lines drawn. On April 13, Decatur voters will decide whether to become the 13th location in Alabama to allow Sunday alcohol sales.

On one side are businesses and economic organizations arguing Sunday sales translate to more revenue for the city. On the other are some religious leaders and conservative citizens concerned that legalizing Sunday sales could mean increased alcohol consumption.

The Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce stands on the pro-sale side — now.

“Locally, this is probably in the top one or two things we want to get done because of the amount of money we are losing to other counties,” said John Seymour, chamber president. “We have talked about this issue for five or six years.”

Seymour said some prospective restaurants drop Decatur from consideration because of the lack of Sunday sales. Approving the alcohol sales would attract top-of-the-line restaurants and bolster existing restaurants, Seymour said.

“We have talked to enough restaurants in town to know they are very interested and supportive of this,” he said.

While permitting alcohol in eating establishments would benefit restaurants, it would not create a substantial revenue impact for the city. On-premises sales account for at most 10 percent of the city’s alcohol revenue, Seymour said.


Whether the Decatur City Council restricts Sunday sales to on-premises only could determine whether the chamber continues to support the measure.

“Off-premise sales account for 90 to 95 percent of all alcohol sales,” Seymour said. “If they (the City Council) want on-premise only, then we may not be interested anymore or support this as strongly. It is not a significant enough impact for the city.”

The City Council must hold a public meeting announcing any regulations or restrictions to Sunday sales at least 10 days prior to the vote.

According to Alabama’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, of the eight counties and four cities that have legalized Sunday sales, only two restrict purchases to on-premise sites.

Along with the Chamber, the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau endorsed the referendum. Both organizations, focused on bringing people to Decatur, whether permanently or temporarily, have pursued Sunday alcohol sales since 2005.

While the Chamber and the CVB promote the potential businesses and conventions Sunday sales could lure to Decatur, dissenters present a moral argument against the referendum.

‘Never the answer’

Mike Nix, minister at Beltline Church of Christ, sided with the opposition.

“I know alcohol is never the answer, and it certainly contributes to problems,” Nix said. “I’m certainly not in favor of encouraging further alcohol consumption.”

The Rev. Karockas Watkins at Emmanuel Church International did not support or oppose the referendum.

“I’m not for it but I’m not in opposition either or protesting against it,” Watkins said. “Every day is a sacred day and, actually, Saturday, historically in religion, is more of a sacred day.”

Although individuals, including Nix, Mayor Don Stanford and Councilmen Roger Anders and Gary Hammon, are morally oppose to Sunday sales, no organized effort against the referendum has emerged.

Southside Baptist Church Pastor Ben Hayes said leaders in most churches will probably speak out against the referendum but an organized opposition is unlikely.

“With the time frame, there just is not a lot of time to try to organize,” Hayes said. “But for the most part, we, as Southern Baptists, are against the purchase and use of alcohol on any day but especially Sunday, the Lord’s Day.”

If approved, Decatur would be the first wet city in a dry county to permit sales on Sundays. Passage of the referendum would allow alcohol sales citywide, excluding portions of the city located in Limestone County, after 12 p.m.

Even if the referendum passes, after the vote, the City Council must pass an ordinance legalizing Sunday sales.

Although in opposition to the issue, Stanford, Anders and Hammon said voters should decide if they want to expand Decatur’s alcohol availability.

In 51 days the voters will decide and cast ballots either joining the Chamber of Commerce and the CVB or some religious leaders and conservative individuals.

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