By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – Voters here will decide March 19 whether to legalize liquor inside city limits.
Under a state law passed last year, cities of at least 5,000 people (or cities that are county seats) in counties that have voted against legalization of liquor and wine may hold such an election if 20 percent of the registered voters sign petitions to that effect.
Members of New Albany Spirit delivered petitions from 1,085 of New Albany’s 5,280 registered voters, and on Tuesday night aldermen set the election date.
The issue of alcoholic beverages has been one of interest for the past several years in Union County. Voters rejected countywide legalization of liquor in 2008 and again early last year, but New Albany voters approved the sale of beer and light wine inside the city in 2010.
“I’m hopeful,” said Angele Mueller, owner of Tallahatchie Gourmet, which is both restaurant and catering service. “Right now I cannot get a liquor license to serve alcohol even in wet counties. If I’m working in Oxford or Tupelo, I have to hire somebody other than me to do it. If it passes, then I can get one.”
Mueller noted if wine and liquor are legalized, she would likely serve on-premises as well.
“I feel like some other restaurants will probably come to town if that happens,” she said. “My mom is visiting this week from Albuquerque, and she’d love to have a glass of wine, but we can’t do that here, so we’re going to dinner in Tupelo.”
Despite the overwhelming passage of liquor in Corinth in December, New Albany’s passage is no sure thing. Signs opposing legalized alcohol popped up around town last year after the law was amended, and many churches have organized their opposition before each referendum in recent years.
Under the new state law, city officials can decide to allow both on-premises (restaurant) sales by the drink and package-store sales by the bottle or to restrict sales to restaurants only. Corinth officials, whose voters approved legal liquor in December, passed an ordinance that allows both.
New Albany Mayor Tim Kent said if voters approve alcohol, he expects the Board of Aldermen to limit sales.
“I haven’t talked to all of them, but I think it’s going to lean toward restaurants only,” he said. “If they did decide to allow stores, it would be in very restricted areas. I don’t think we’re going to have liquor stores downtown.”
Voters – for or against – are already eager to participate in the election. City Clerk Frankie Roberts said she’s already working with a printer to get absentee ballots printed.
“People are already calling about them,” she said.