Region sees a flurry of alcohol activity

TUPELO – Talk about copy cats.
Since August, three major Northeast Mississippi cities have legalized Sunday liquor sales with another set to tackle beer sales next month.
During the same time, at least six communities have either voted on alcohol-related issues or been asked to vote on them.
Has everyone suddenly acquired a taste for spirits? Not exactly. Chalk it up instead to a weak economy, a new slate of municipal leaders and a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality.
But it hasn’t been without a fight. Opponents of Sunday sales – and alcohol in general – have lobbied hard against the more lenient laws. They warn against domestic violence, drunk driving and a host of other perils that sometimes accompany alcohol consumption.
“There will come a time when someone gets hurt from buying beer on Sunday,” said Harrisburg Baptist Church pastor Forrest Sheffield, who also disapproves of alcohol Monday through Saturday. “Even if it did bring in some tax dollars, it’s not worth the harm, maiming the life of one person.”
Starkville got the ball rolling in July, just days after a new mayor and Board of Aldermen took office. Recently elected municipal leaders statewide took office July 2, giving pro-alcohol supporters a fresh chance at change.
Starkville resident and former Daily Journal reporter Robbie Ward launched a movement in his hometown pushing for Sunday beer and liquor sales.
He argued they’d boost revenues and push the city toward a more progressive future. And he found a sympathetic audience from new members of the Board of Aldermen, like Sandra Sistrunk.
“It’s not an emotional issue, it’s not a moral judgment about drinking,” Sistrunk told the Commercial Dispatch in July. “It is a business development sense in the sense that it makes the community more attractive to people outside the community.”
The aldermen voted 4-3 in favor of Sunday sales on Aug. 17.
That decision spurred a discussion among aldermen in Columbus, which had Sunday beer and light wine but not liquor. Aldermen said it’d bring money into the city, and on Sept. 1, they voted to acquire liquor sales.
At the same time, Aberdeen approved extending Sunday beer-sale hours while Oxford rejected a request to extend its hours during home football games.
It didn’t take long for Tupelo to join the discussion. The city had a new mayor, and most of its City Council members were new. Many said Sunday sales would help the economy, and they didn’t want to loose business to Starkville or Columbus.
“It just makes economic sense,” said Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington said, who was elected in June. “After going through this budget process and having 52 percent of the city’s revenue derived from sales tax, it’s not a moral issue … it’s an economic issue.”
So on Sept. 15, Tupelo’s council voted 4-3 in favor of Sunday beer and light wine sales. Verona aldermen, meanwhile, voted against it.
Leaders in Saltillo and Caledonia heard requests in November to legalize beer sales on Sunday, as did officials in Baldwyn last week. None voted on the matter, but Caledonia could revisit the issue at its next board meeting on Monday.
Tupelo’s council members did vote last month; they added Sunday liquor sales on top of the beer and light wine they’d approved just weeks prior.
The Mississippi Tax Commission is expected to decide Tupelo’s request Dec. 15. It has already OK’d those from Starkville and Columbus.
And next month, New Albany voters will decide whether to approve beer and light wine sales. It’s currently a dry city in a dry county. Aldermen there set a Jan. 12 election at the request of a group called Union County United for Progress.
UCUP had collected more than 1,000 names on a petition calling for the election. All were certified by the Union County election commissioners.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal