By LENA MITCHELL / NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
BOONEVILLE – Prentiss County voters will make their wishes known Tuesday on the matter of legalized liquor sales countywide.
The Citizens for New Business and Growth launched the effort after an August referendum in Booneville to legalize beer and light wine sales in the city failed by 21 votes.
While the group supporting legalized liquor sales has been gathering signatures and encouraging individuals to vote, churches have also been busy fighting the effort, mainly through signs and newspaper advertising and letters to the editor.
As in most debates about alcohol, opponents worry about the effect on community and family, while supporters speak in terms of economic benefits.
“It is my opinion that the people in Booneville that are for it will definitely come out to vote and those adamantly against it will come out and vote,” said Gary Walker, spokesman for Citizens for New Business and Growth. “I think it will be up to the people in the county who want to bring something that will benefit them to make the difference.”
The issue was scheduled for a vote Tuesday after 1,537 signatures on petitions were validated by the Prentiss County circuit clerk’s office.
A second petition to gather more than 3,500 signatures to force a vote on countywide beer sales continues to circulate since the number of signatures required is higher. Thus far organizers have 1,637 of the verified signatures needed, Walker said.
“We’ve spent quite a bit of money on advertising and circulating petitions, and now it’s up to the people to go and vote,” Walker said. “People who support this need to go vote and not let 40 percent of the people make the decision for the other 60 percent.”
As of late Friday, the circuit clerk’s office said more than 200 absentee ballots had been cast, a moderate number according to Circuit Clerk Mike Kelley. About 350 absentee ballots were cast in Prentiss County in the Nov. 2 general election of about 8,000 total votes cast. The county has 17,000 registered voters.
Walker said the public’s passion about the alcohol issue is likely to draw a higher number to the polls.
“We hope to turn out 12,000 of the 17,000 for this vote,” he said. “If people would stop and think about what will benefit our neighborhoods, it wouldn’t take a minute to make a decision. Many businesses have told our officials they won’t come into a community that is dry.”
If the measure is approved, final authorization would have to come from the state.
The question of legalizing beer, light wine and alcohol has been a continuing theme this year.
New Albany passed a beer ordinance in April, and a Pontotoc County resident launched a drive to permit alcohol in that county in July and a Tishomingo County resident launched a similar effort in August.
Currently, 34 of Mississippi’s 82 counties are dry for hard liquor, according to the Associated Press. During the past two years, seven cities have received state approval to extend liquor sales to Sunday, while two cities and one county have voted to go from dry to wet for beer, according to state Department of Revenue spokeswoman Kathy Waterbury.
And the debate isn’t limited to Mississippi in the Bible Belt, AP reports. Culman County, Ala., passed a referendum to go wet last month with 52 percent voter support, saying it could help economic development.
“Win or lose we’re going to press forward on the beer issue,” Walker said. “If this alcohol vote fails I can assure you in 24 months it will be on the ballot again, because I’m determined to bring my county into the 21st century.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at 287-9822 or firstname.lastname@example.org