BOONEVILLE • Booneville residents will have the chance to decide whether beer, wine and liquor can be possessed or sold within the city limits next week.
When the polls open at 7 a.m. Oct. 15 at the Westside Community Center, the town of around 9,000 will have its first vote to go “wet” or stay “dry” in nine years. Only Booneville residents will be allowed to vote.
Because of state statutes, there will be two questions on the referendum. One vote will be whether to allow beer (up to 8 percent alcohol) and light wine (up to 5 percent alcohol). The other vote will be for liquor and wine with more than 5 percent alcohol.
The elections are separate. Someone can vote for one issue and against the other, if they choose.
Proponents say alcohol sales will bring in more sales taxes and economic development. Opponents say it will bring increased crime and increased costs dealing with alcohol-related problems.
The citizens group Moving Booneville Forward is focused on the economic impact going wet could have on the city. Spokesman C.J. McCoy noted that beer and liquor is already in Booneville. People are just leaving town to buy it.
“We need to keep our local tax dollars in Booneville,” McCoy said. “We are a bulls-eye. We are the only remaining city in the area that is dry. It’s ridiculous. We are losing money daily.”
She said that after the city of Houston went wet this year, one beer distributor sold 10,000 cases of beer in the first two weeks. That is about a $200,000 increase in sales for local businesses and a portion of the sales tax went back to the city.
“It’s not just the beer sales, it’s also restaurant sales,” McCoy said. “Someone who wants to eat out and have a drink has to travel to another town. Why not keep it here instead of it going to Corinth or Tupelo?
“That’s my whole argument – the economic impact.”
Several area churches have joined forces to oppose alcohol. The Booneville Church of Christ is the biggest and has been the most vocal.
“I think it is bad for Booneville all the way around,” said Greg Pollack, minister at Booneville Church of Christ. “Any benefits don’t outweigh the risks and dangers.
“A CDC (Centers for Disease Control) study shows alcohol abuse costs local, state and federal governments around $100 billion a year, while the revenue from taxes is only $16 billion.
“So for every $16 it brings in, it costs you $100.”
Through the church’s prison ministry, Pollack said he has seen a lot of people adversely affected by alcohol.
“It’s not just drunk driving,” Pollack said. “It’s also domestic violence, sexual assault and aggravated assault,” Pollack said. “I know it is already here (in Booneville) but I feel making it easier to get will only make the problems worse.”
McCoy, who is not a drinker, said proponents agree that abusing alcohol can cause criminal and social problems.
“Nobody is for people abusing alcohol,” McCoy said. “But not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic or will become one. Many people just want to enjoy a drink with a meal.”
Moving Booneville Forward estimated alcohol sales in stores in Booneville could top $2 million annually, which would generate $140,000 in sales tax. Of that figure, more than $25,000 would come back to Booneville. They also note that restaurant could also see an increase in sales with more people opting to dine out.
Both sides are working hard to get their messages out – on social media, electronic billboards and even advertising.
The alcohol opponents will hold a rally at 4 p.m. Sunday at the back pavilion in Booneville City Park.
“There will be information, motivation and a time of prayer,” Pollack said. “The other side has kept it mostly quiet, which is a good strategy. We decided to let people know what was going on and let them know there is a vote coming up.”
The Tuesday referendums only need a simple majority to pass. Whether the measures pass or not, it will be several years before the issue can be brought up again. State law says there must be a five-year span between liquor elections. Beer elections can be held every two years.