This newly established coalition conducted an organizational meeting June 9 at the Cave City community building. The informational meeting was hosted by Ken Coker, chairman, and Morris Street, treasurer, of the coalition.
The crowd of over 25 residents represented Cave City, Evening Shade, Sidney and Independence County. They came to learn about the coalition and hear the ideas presented for further organization in southern Sharp County as well as ways the prospective wet/dry issue could affect the county as a whole.
In addition to the citizens of Sharp County, residents and graduates of John 3:16 Ministries, a faith based rehabilitation program, were present to see how they could help with the issue.
Coker introduced the broad-based coalition's goals and made attendees aware of the fact that the wet/dry issue wasn't the only thing that they intend to fight.
Coker said, "The opposition is truly just a handful of people." He said they are very strong willed and he feels the public should be made aware of the facts surrounding the issue prior to signing the petition that could make Sharp County a wet county.
The Coalition for the Future of Sharp County was organized three or four months ago and built on the foundation of the previous group who opposed the county becoming wet.
Coker said, "Alcohol is a gateway drug to other things," and wants the public to be made aware of not only the dangers to society as a result of alcohol, but also the toll the drug takes on families and children. He said that children are the ones that suffer the most in a family with alcoholism.
Coker addressed easy access to alcohol if the county were to become wet and quoted statistics from a study conducted by the University of Arkansas regarding crime statistics in wet versus dry counties.
The study concluded that a larger percentage of felony crimes occur in wet counties. An astonishing 326 percent more robberies were reported in a wet county as opposed to that of a dry county. Coker commented on the potential that demographics might play a role in the numbers rather than just the fact that the county where the statistic was taken from was dry. He said the easy availability of alcohol is one reason people who do drink conjugate in a particular area creating these neighborhoods. Essentially, Coker said the ease of access to alcohol was the reason for the crime increases, not the demographics.
More reasons the coalition is against the county becoming wet are the increased cost of law enforcement required, increased DWI accidents, domestic violence and crimes. Coker said, if the county becomes wet, Sharp County will also experience a large amount of traffic into the county to buy alcohol from surrounding dry counties.
Save Energy Reap Taxes (SERT), is the coalition's opposition. Their main concern isn't making the county wet as much as it is to reduce greenhouse gases emitted from the vehicles used in driving to obtain alcohol in surrounding counties. One of the audience members brought up the fact that there are also people who travel to Tunica to gamble, Jonesboro and Springfield to shop and eat and there is no attempt by SERT to change these activities.
Coker also addressed reasons those who favor Sharp County's becoming wet and attempted to debunk many of the myths associated with these beliefs.
Some proponents think that Sharp County remaining dry is holding back potental population growth. Coker said, "This is simply not true." He said that four of the fastest growing counties in Arkansas are dry. He said many families he has talked to have come to Sharp County to raise their families in the safe rural area where alcohol isn't readily available.
Another, and perhaps the largest myth surrounding Sharp County becoming wet, is the potential for a huge tax revenue from the sale of alcohol.
Street addressed the audience with numbers taken from Baxter County's population and used as a basis for the potential sales in Sharp County. Street said the county could sell $3 million dollars a year in alcohol and then posed the question, "Where do these sales tax dollars go?" The unanimous answer was, "To the State." The only money the cities, if they had a city tax, would receive would be $30,000 (based on the 3 million estimate). Street said that when factoring in the additional cost of $50,000 a year for additional police officer wages, vehicle and fuel, that already makes a $10,000 deficit, demonstrating one of the coalition's slogans, "alcohol doesn't make sense or cents."
Street also addressed turnbacks, which is money the state turns back to the counties after they spend what is needed. He explained that turnback money is not something that can be budgeted and depends solely on sales, so this is not a revenue option for the county.
Street also said the only ones who will get rich from the sale of alcohol will be the distributors. This was evident by the Newport area alcohol distributors donating money during the last election to help keep Sharp County dry. Street said they are the only ones who would benefit, not the citizens or small businesses that would sell alcohol.
He said that if Sharp County does become wet, cities within the county can opt to be dry by voting on the issue after the election that made the county wet. He said this would apply only to city limits and therefore businesses wishing to sell alcohol would have to open their business outside the city limits.
Both Street and Coker told the audience that swift organization of coalition representatives in the Cave City area was vital to the success of the organization's goals. Street suggested area churches conduct voter registrations and tell everyone about the coalition. He said the Coalition for the Future of Sharp County needs volunteers to canvas the area with vital information and to stop residents from signing the petition. Street also said the group has applied for a 501 C3, not for profit organizational status, but said it "just takes a lot of time." He encouraged donations and said the group currently has a person who will match funds up to $10,000.
Prior to adjournment, former alcoholics testified to the desperate need to keep Sharp County dry for future generations. Ben Karns, a graduate of John 3:16 also told the audience about the impact of alcohol and how it leads to other drugs. Karns is volunteering to help with the effort.
Bob Tuggle, Richard Hawkins and Bill Snow were nominated by Avondale Street and other audience members as Cave City's chairmen to the coalition.
The group has planned several upcoming events and asks the public to attend if there are any questions regarding the mission of the coalition.