Members of Save Energy Reap Taxes are enjoying a milestone. After months of hard work, they have finally achieved their goal.
The local residents have collected more than 4,300 signatures required to have county voters take to the polls in the November General Election to determine whether Sharp County should remain dry or become wet.
"We needed around 4,300. We have that amount and we're continuing to get more," said SERT member Jerry Adams. "We're quite confident it will be on the ballot."
The petitions must be turned in to the Sharp County Clerk at least 90 days before the election. To be safe, the group plans to submit them in early August.
The group hit the streets with the petitions in September 2007 to collect signatures from 38 percent of the county's registered voters.
"It's been going well," Adams said. "Without Ruth's hard work, it never would have gotten this far."
The Ruth he refers to is Ruth Reynolds, local environmentalist and president of SERT.
While talks of making the county wet has been discussed for years, it came up again during the summer at a meeting of the Climate Awareness Project of Sharp County as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Reynolds said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the country has a limited amount of time to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions before rapid climate change. Politicians are writing bills to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
"Who knows how many tons of carbon has been released by driving to Thayer to purchase alcohol," she said during a December interview. "I know this is small considering all the greenhouse gas emissions in all the world, but it adds up."
She said each gallon of gas burned creates 22 pounds of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere.
"If we're not careful we're going to experience catastrophic climate change, in my opinion," she said. "I just want to get a handle on this transportation in Sharp County."
Soon after the meeting, others got wind of the idea and the potential financial benefits the sale of alcohol could bring to the county. Together the groups merged into an entity called Save Energy Reap Taxes which officially incorporated in July 2007.
"Her spin is the environmental angle ... my whole spin is the economic benefits of it -- moneywise and jobs," Adams said.
Adams said he thinks with four eating establishments destroyed in Highland during the Feb. 5 tornado, the sale of alcohol could bring more business into the area to replace what has been lost.
He said large, nice restaurants such as Outback, Applebee's and Chili's may not ever come to the area but definitely won't if the county doesn't allow alcohol sales.
"In these economic times we don't need to be limiting ourselves at all with business," he said.
SERT Treasurer Stu Freigy said in 2006 Baxter County brought in more than $209,000 in excise tax from the sale of alcoholic beverages. Sharp County is about half the size in population so Freigy said he estimates Sharp County could bring in about $100,000. He said he expects the county sales tax to increase by $11,000 to $12,000 annually.
While Adams said obtaining the petitions has gone rather well, it doesn't mean everyone has supported the issue.
"We've had people who were more than unfriendly," Freigy said. In addition, most of the resistance from the issue has been religious based, he said. As the November election draws nearer, he said he expects even more resistance.
While some are concerned about a variety of issues spawned by the possibility of the county becoming wet, one of the concerns expressed most often is a fear of an increase of intoxicated drivers on the roads.
"Research has shown DWIs go up as population goes up," Adams said.
Freigy said he spoke with law enforcement officials in Baxter and Marion counties along with Craighead County, which he said was the wettest dry county in the state, about a possible increase in crime associated with the sale of alcohol. In all three counties, the officials said an increase in crime is associated with an increase in population, not alcohol, he said.
"It's not promoting alcoholism. Availability does not cause alcoholism," Adams said.
In Arkansas there are 42 dry counties and 33 wet, according to the Alcoholic Beverage Control in Little Rock. In 1978 Baxter County residents voted to go wet. Marion County voters did as well in 2006.
In November 1942, Sharp County voters went to the polls regarding the wet/dry issue. The results were recounted Feb. 26, 1946. The recount revealed that 379 residents were for the sale of alcohol while 850 were against. The issue hasn't been on the ballot again since.
Despite the fact that Sharp County is a dry county, alcohol is served in some establishments in the county including the South Golf Course Restaurant, Copper Feather, Elks, American Legion and some VFWs.
Petitions are available at Tom's Short Cuts in Cherokee Village, Highland Health Mart in Highland and with SERT members at the Sharp County Courthouse.
If anyone is interested in signing the petition, they may call 257-2163, 257-4596 or 966-4940.
"By signing this petition we're not voting for anything. It's just to get it on the ballot," Adams said.
While the wet/dry petition is the only local petition being circulated by the group, members do have another petition available for county residents to sign. It is a statewide petition to legalize a lottery in the state. The proceeds from which will go to provide scholarships to Arkansas students, Adams said.