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Friday, May 6, 2016

Signatures may place wet/dry issue on ballot

Thursday, June 26, 2008

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.

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I think there needs to be a story on the people in Sharp County, who have formed a group and are in opposition of the county becoming wet.

In response to the point about the chain restaurants coming here, that is a poor excuse to make the county wet. Those restaurants would not be coming here, no matter what happens in the county. Anyone can see they only come to larger places.

-- Posted by rebelman on Thu, Jun 26, 2008, at 10:53 AM

I hope the county stays dry. I have lived in a wet county and there is a beer joint or liquor store on every corner, in all the stores and there is drunk or drinking people hanging around them. I moved to a dry county to get away from that. If you don't like living in a dry county move to a wet county or quit drinking. We don't want your alcohol here.

Freda Henderson

-- Posted by gogirl5051 on Thu, Jun 26, 2008, at 1:19 PM

It's a thin line between the luxury of a dry county and the tax dollars and jobs that would come with liquor sales.

-- Posted by The Shadow on Fri, Jun 27, 2008, at 10:23 PM

The county is not only losing a lot of money by staying dry it is causing a lot of the accidents by drivers going to MO and buying booze that they consume on the drive back. Being dry is not stopping one person from drinking. It just sends the money to MO or Mountain Home. I was told by law enforcement in Mountain Home that the accident rate dropped when they voted to go wet.

-- Posted by dabic on Sat, Jun 28, 2008, at 8:31 AM

Count me in as one of the many that prefer the county stay dry. I am not naive. Alcohol is prevalent in the area. That is known. That does not mean that I want to see it on my way to town or on the way to work. I am perfectly capable of teaching my kids my opinions of right and wrong, regardless of whether the county is wet or dry. If the county goes wet (and I don't believe it will) I will not move to another area or be protesting on the corner. Whether you choose to drink or not is your business. Are the people that want alcohol really having a problem getting it now? And don't hide behind the environment. At least have the guts to say "I want to drive to town to buy my liquor" instead of "I want to lessen my carbon footprint by buying my liquor closer to home". I could at least respect your reasoning if it were honest, but I'm not stupid enough to believe we're on a quest to save the environment. My mother who has never taken a drink in her life was even persuaded to sign the petition, as I suppose a lot of people were. And guess what? When she thought about the impact of it, she won't be voting for it on the ballot. Some of the organizers might be surprised at how many of the people on the petition won't really be supporting it when voting time comes around.

-- Posted by ITGuy on Sat, Jun 28, 2008, at 7:34 PM

I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. I am not an alcoholic nor do I get drunk. Even the Lord made wine out of water, if you believe the Bible.

I don't smoke, don't like cigarette smoke, can't go into a restaurant to eat where there is smoke. I don't expect all smokers to quit smoking, so therefore don't expect me to not be able to buy a bottle of wine just because you don't happen to like it.

Aren't we still America?

-- Posted by J.B. on Thu, Jul 3, 2008, at 3:25 PM

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