New Albany aldermen to deal with possible specifics of liquor and wine sale next week

By J. Lynn West/News-Exchange

New Albany aldermen are expected to discuss details concerning sale of liquor and wine inside the city at their regular meeting next Tuesday, April 2.

Sale was made legal Tuesday last week under a change in state law that allows only residents in a municipality to vote on the issue rather than all county residents voting. Liquor and wine generally can only be sold in the city limits, regardless, although a few exceptions are possible if club or resort status is obtained.

Once all the absentee and affidavit ballots were counted, the measure passed 55.22 percent to 42.78 percent with 44.29 percent of the city’s 4,834 registered voters participating.

All four wards saw a majority favoring legalization with a ratio of 62.59 percent to 37.41 percent in Ward One, 51.34 percent to 48.66 percent in Ward Two, 68.55 percent to 31.45 percent in Ward Three and 50.43 percent to 49.57 percent in Ward Four.

Now that a majority of residents voted in favor of legalization, aldermen must create an enabling ordinance.

Mayor Tim Kent said he and other city officials have talked with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control about options.

While the ABC sets most regulations concerning sale of liquor, including hours of operation, distance from schools and churches, service and how alcohol must be purchased from the state, aldermen do have some control.

“We can vote package stores out and we can restrict hours but not extend them,” Kent said. Some of those involved had believed that the vote automatically brought in sales by the drink but left allowing package stores as an option, which ABC officials say is not the case.

“There is a high probability they may restrict package stores to commercially zoned areas,” the mayor said, but he does expect a lot of modification to begin with.

“I think the ordinance will just say that we follow state law for the time being until everybody knows what’s going on,” he said. Aldermen could then make adjustments after seeing how well the law works.

In all likelihood, aldermen will propose the ordinance Tuesday, which means the required public hearing probably will be held during the May board meeting – the same day as the municipal primary elections.

Proponents of legalization have said it is necessary for the city to grow and that it will bring economic benefits, specifically national chain restaurants. Opponents say legalization alone is not sufficient to draw big-name restaurants and the availability of liquor will increase crime and problems for families and individuals.

Kent said the city has seen little outward change since the legalization of beer. DUI arrests have not risen despite the city’s having a full-time DUI enforcement officer able to focus on alcohol-related arrests, and, anecdotally, litter from alcohol containers seems to be less a problem.

The amount of sales seems to exceded almost everyone’s expectations, however. Kent said one of the distributors estimated New Albany is selling about 11,000 cases of beer a week. As a rough approximation, that translates into nearly $200,000. The city receives about a third of the seven-percent sales tax turned into the state, which means the city will receive more than $260,000 in additional revenue for the year from beer sales alone.

If anyone wants to try to reverse legalization, a petition to consider making liquor and wine illegal cannot be brought up for two years.

For more information concerning regulations related to liquor and wine sales, go to the ABC website at http://www.dor.ms.gov/abc/main.html.