Getting Wetter? 5 cities putting alcohol sales on May ballots

Published on Thursday, 10 April 2014 20:48 - Written by Faith Harper fharper@tylerpaper.com

Five East Texas towns may be added to the growing list of towns that are getting wetter.

Voters will decide on whether to allow beer and wine into their stores and restaurants. Of those, three are proposed by the group Van Zandt Committee for Economic Growth and include Canton, Van and Grand Saline. Gilmer and Quitman also are voting on alcohol options.

The company Texas Petitions Strategies is working with groups to get the decision in front of voters and was behind similar alcohol options in Smith County Justice of the Peace precincts 1 and 4 as well as the city of Whitehouse and Nacogdoches in 2013.

The ballots are the same in each jurisdiction, with one proposition on allowing the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption and a second for the legal sale of mixed beverages by food and beverages certificate holders.

Carolyn Beck, spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said the main difference between a private club designation and a mixed-beverage permit is who will be drinking the alcohol. Mrs. Beck said a private club is technically group of people who want to drink together and do not make a profit off the sale of the products, whereas a mixed beverage certificate allows for the profitable sale of beverages to anyone legal to buy them.

“It’s the difference between a business of people who want to sell alcohol versus a group of people who want to enjoy alcohol among themselves,” she said.

There also are price differences between the designations, and in most cases the mixed-beverage option is the cheaper route, she said.

The Van Zandt Committee for Economic Growth cites increased sales tax revenues from the sale of alcohol and increased safety on roadways as reasons for the distributing petitions that eventually placed the options on ballots.

Currently Wills Point is the only city in the county of 52,000 people that allows for the product’s sale, according to information released by the committee. Since Wills Point went wet in 2009, sales tax coming into the city has increased 37 percent to 2013. During the same time frame, Van’s sales tax allocations increased 28 percent, 14 percent in Canton and 3 percent in Grand Saline, according to the committee, which asserts as much as $600,000 in revenue per year is leaving to other areas to purchase alcohol.

Max Callahan, with the opposition group Concerned Citizens of Van Zandt County, said the group is concerned allowing alcohol to be sold in more of its cities will affect the moral character of the town.

“We feel like the standard of values needs to be maintained, and we want to emphasize the possible detriment to the children and the families in the long run if these propositions pass,” he said.

Callahan, a retired high school principal and educator for over 40 years, said he has see the affects of alcohol on families first-hand.

“I’ve seen when alcohol is introduced into homes that children surfer educationally, emotionally and sometime physically,” he said. “We feel an increased accessibility in our community would be detrimental to our families and our children.”

John Hatch, with Texas Petition Strategies, said Gilmer and Quitman also would see sales tax increases as people buy beer locally. He said allowing people to buy beer and wine in their neighborhoods cuts down on drinking and driving fatalities.

“Three-hundred and fifty communities have now voted wet and Texas gained 3 million people,” he said. “Based on the opposition’s logic, what should have happened was an increase in the number of alcohol-related fatalities, but according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of fatalities actually dropped by 300,” Hatch said.

If voters approve the measures, it could be up to three months before the products appear on shelves.

Ms. Beck said the cities would first have to canvas the votes. Then any applicant would need to apply for a permit in the city, and once the application is approved, it would go to the county and then to the comptroller to ensure the applicant does now owe the state money.

From there the application comes to TABC, which is averaging 40 days to issue permits.

Early voting begins April 28 and runs through May 6. The general election day is May 10