County alcohol sales

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FAIRFIELD BAY — A group based out of Fairfield Bay has begun a process to have a “wet” vote on the ballot for the November 2020 general election.

The group plans a Jan. 7 kick-off toward gathering petition signatures required to put the vote on the ballot. Training for signature-gatherers will begin Jan. 2, spokesman and Fairfield Bay resident David Byard said.

Van Buren County is currently an alcohol prohibition, or “dry” county, with no alcohol sales in its borders outside of private clubs. If the groups efforts result in voters changing this to a “wet” county, alcohol sales would be allowed in the county, with beer and wine for sale at area markets, and two liquor stores based in the county.

A minimum of 4,000 signatures is required to get the vote on the ballot. The goal is to get more signatures than what is required in order to assure a wet-dry vote on the general election ballot, Byard said.

The specific number of required signatures will not be known before June 1 due to election laws which require a determination of voter numbers in the county.

Signature-gathering will take place in what’s being called two “operations,” with one based in Fairfield Bay, and a second in Clinton.

Byard, who does not drink, points to the economic impact of alcohol sales as the primary motivator for his acting to get a wet vote on the ballot.

A University of Arkansas study estimated increased sales tax revenue from alcohol sales in the county, based upon a range of factors, including county residents who travel out-of-county to purchase alcohol and current alcohol sales in by-the-drink private club sales, would bring from $110,846 to $199,897 into the county. The figure included tax revenues to to the towns of Clinton, Fairfield Bay, Shirley and Damascus of between $24,924 and $43,811 per year.

A portion of the anticipated revenue cited in the study would come from out-of-county resident coming to Van Buren County to purchase alcohol from nearby, other, dry counties, such as Cleburne, northern Faulkner and southeast Stone counties.

Despite a portion of Fairfield Bay extending into Cleburne County, Byard said the group has no intent to put a wet vote on that county’s ballot.

Because going to a wet county would impact alcohol sales at out-of-county locations, notably liquor stores, Byard expects some push-back on the petition drive. His group has been getting advice from groups in other counties which have undertaken a wet-dry vote, and the petition and ballot title are being vetted by a lawyer with experience in such matters, he said.

Other counties which organized a wet-dry vote were subject to direct-mail campaigns and other efforts by groups from outside the county encouraging the county to stay dry. These groups were often financed by businesses which sold alcohol to dry-county resident.

The same is expected to take place in Van Buren County, Byard said.

[Editor’s note: This newspaper had previously taken an editorial position in favor of alcohol sales in the county.]

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