New Albany approves beer and light wine

NEW ALBANY – Voters here on Tuesday approved the sale of beer and light within city limits.

The turnout represented more than 40 percent of voters on city rolls. Unofficial returns were 1,175 for and 991 against, with only six affidavit votes left to count.

“I have worked in Tupelo before, and the business there is growing,” said supporter Steven Gibson. “They’re getting more restaurants, more businesses, and I think we should have the same thing.”

“If somebody wanted to go out and eat and wanted to drink a beer with their dinner, they wouldn’t have to drive all the way to Tupelo to do so,” said another voter, who declined to give his name. “They could do it right here in their hometown.”

Opponents have repeatedly voiced moral objections to any alcohol.

“It’s a bad thing for families,” Julia Barkley said just before voting during the noon hour. “I spoke against (legalizing beer) when I was in high school back in the 50s, and I’m still against it.”

“It’s going to have a negative effect in our city and even far-reaching into our county,” said Pastor Mark Bishop of Victory Church. “We don’t see any positive results from bringing beer into our city.”

Police Chief David Grisham said, “We’ll enforce the law and go from there. It’s probably going to make more work for me, but that’s my job, and we’ll do what we can.”

The vote marked the first victory for imbibers since Prohibition. There was one short time in the 1950s when an election technicality made beer legal, but the sheriff at that time was reputed to have threatened any businesses that tried to sell it. The most recent effort to legalize alcohol in the area prior to Tuesday’s election was in November 2008, when county voters defeated legalization of liquor and wine by a 57- to 43-percent margin. Tuesday’s vote does not change Union County’s dry status outside of New Albany.

Legal sales of beer and wine coolers in restaurants and retail stores are still several weeks away. A special Board of Aldermen meeting has been set for Jan. 21 to address the issue.

“The aldermen have to decide what restrictions, if any, they want to place on it – hours days, distance from churches and schools, and whether it is to be sold cold or hot,” City Attorney Bobby Carter said. Distances are not specified by state law, but most cities set limits from 250 feet to 750 feet. State law requires beer and light wine retailing to cease at least between midnight and 7 a.m., but local governments can impose more restrictive hours.

After authorizing Carter to draft a beer ordinance, the board will vote on it at a later meeting – perhaps as early as their regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 2.

“We’re kind of up to speed, and everybody’s been thinking about it. I’ve looked at the ordinances of a number of towns to see what they’ve done, how they’ve handled it,” Carter said. “They would vote on it, I think, fairly quickly.”

Only after the State Tax Commission passes approval on New Albany’s election results and its ordinance – which normally is a rubber-stamp proposal – may retail stores and restaurants apply for the required state license.

New Albany alcohol opponents must wait five years before compelling an election to make beer and light wine illegal again. Elections may be held two years apart, so supporters could make another bid at legalizing wine and liquor.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio