The group supporting the vote towards becoming a wet county, Save Energy Reap Taxes (SERT) turned in their petition form Aug. 6 with over 6,000 signatures to be counted.
"I'm sure a lot may not be valid or there are duplicate signatures but we wanted to turn it in soon enough to give the clerk time to look over that," Stewart Freigy, treasurer of SERT said.
SERT members had to receive 38 percent of Sharp County voters-- 4,369 signatures -- in order to place the proposal on the November ballot.
During this year's Sharp County Fair, both the wet county supporters, represented by SERT, and the dry county supporters, represented by the Committee for Concerned Citizens, were handing out information that depicts two very different sides of what the reality of becoming a wet county would be. With the vote only three months away, local residents may be asking themselves which facts they can rely on to assist in making the right decision for their county.
SERT represents two arguments, both supporting the legalization of alcohol sales in Sharp County. One aspect is the argument that environmental factors play a major role in why the county should become wet. The second part of the issue is economic benefits that selling alcohol in the county will offer.
Where the arguments come together is that consumers are using an excess of fuel driving to neighboring counties while that county is reaping the sales tax benefits that could be used for projects throughout the area.
The facts presented by the dry county supporters tell residents that dry counties are more dangerous, don't bring in enough tax revenue to make up for the added dangers and denounce the theory that gas emissions are causing serious danger to the environment.
"Almost 50 percent of environmental scientists do not believe that man is causing global warming," a handout reads.
"That clearly means that more than half do believe it," Freigy added.
Ruth Reynolds, a SERT member and advocate of environmental awareness stated that although the dry county supporters name a reputable source, Lawrence Solomon, an author and an environmental scientist, who said that in the last decade temperatures have actually levelled off and in the last year have dropped. Another reputable source, James Hansen, who works for the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, argued in front of the United States Congress that current carbon dioxide levels emitted from fossil fuels are extremely dangerous.
The issue of alcohol sales tax revenue for the county has also brought about blatant contradictions. Both sides of the issue present facts and information hoping to sway the majority of voters, but while dry county supporters say selling alcohol would actually cost an additional $40,000 a year for every deputy hired to make up for the increase in crime they say will occur, wet county supporters say that we are losing profits that could ultimately lower property taxes and help with necessary projects.
"$33,400 may not seem like much to a banker, but many Sharp County taxpayers don't make that much in a year," a SERT representative said.
Freigy also pointed out that although he agrees with the opposing sides view on how much Sharp County will bring in from sales tax, dry county supporters do not take into account the positive effects on the local economy as a whole.
"New businesses bring new jobs. Besides liquor stores, it is possible that an Olive Garden, Outback, a winery, etc. would locate here. Has anyone ever seen one of those establishments that do not sell wine?" Freigy said.
Sharp County currently has several private, alcohol serving establishments such as the South Golf Course Restaurant, Copper Feather, Elks, American Legion and some VFWs.
"People who are going to drink are going to drink, they don't need a liquor store on the corner," Jim Weston of Committee of Concerned Citizens said.
Along with the rise in crime rate, the dry county supporters said the need for law enforcement increases in a wet county. According to their statistics and the Arkansas Criminal Information Center, a wet county requires one officer for every 318 citizens while a dry county only requires one officer for every 501 citizens.
Freigy said that these numbers simply reflect the need for law enforcement in larger populated areas.
"Both crime and the need for law enforcement officers increase with population. Most of the wet counties are the larger populated counties," Freigy said.
Dry county supporters say the fact that population growth in wet counties is higher is a falsity and actually dry counties are growing exponentially. The statistics they gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2000 show that wet counties had an average growth of 7.4 percent while dry counties had an average growth of only 22 percent.
According to SERT, dry county supporters misinterpreted the statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and that the actual numbers show an average growth of 2.31 percent in wet counties and 1.71 percent in dry counties.
One major issue that concerns dry county supporters is that of the heightened or lowered crime rates a wet county experiences. According to their side, a wet county is significantly more dangerous than a dry county while the other side disagrees.
According to SERT, the percentage of traffic deaths due to alcohol is .0103 in wet counties, which is less than .0124 percent in dry counties. They received their information from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Arkansas State Police records of 2006. The dry county supporters argue that crime rates and DUI offenses are 110 percent higher in wet counties than in dry counties. They received their information from a report conducted from 1998 to 1999 by the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Arkansas.
Much of the dry county supporters packet depicts issues with alcohol abuse in teenagers, and in general, but according to SERT, they agree that alcohol abuse is a negative aspect but deny that legalizing alcohol will increase that problem.
"We abhor alcohol abuse as much as they do," Freigy said. "We already have A.A., ALONON, etc. and a lot of other people with drinking problems in this county. It's bad, but not selling alcohol here sure hasn't stopped the problem," Freigy said.
With an abundance of facts pointing in opposite directions, voters are turning to their own personal values and beliefs.
"I only know how I feel about the issue and what I've seen in the past. Statistics can be turned either way and can make it hard to determine truth," one Sharp County voter said.
The Sharp County Clerk will be reviewing the petitions and whether the issue will be voted on in November will be determined soon.