- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - Pontotoc voters approved the sale and consumption of beer and liquor in the city, while alcohol remains illegal in the rest of Pontotoc County.

As a result of the Sept. 16 referendum, Pontotoc became the ninth city in Mississippi to take advantage of a 2012 state law. Two years ago, the state legislature passed a law allowing county seats and cities with at least 5,000 people to vote on whether or not they wanted alcohol within the city limits. The old law required countywide votes, even though liquor can only be sold within municipal boundaries.

Corinth was one of the first cities to hold an election in December 2012. New Albany and Ripley followed in 2013. Both Amory and Fulton will hold liquor elections in October. The village of Pittsboro could hold an election in November. There are reports that Booneville residents are considering a petition drive.

To force an election, a petition with the signatures of 1,500 registered voters, or 20 percent of the population, whichever is less, is required. Once approved, it is up to the town’s governing body to set guidelines. The board could restrict the liquor to restaurants or they could allow it to be sold in package stores.

Proponents of alcohol argue that it brings in additional sales taxes. Opponents argue it brings crime and other problems. The cities who approved liquor say they are not seeing many problems. In fact, several say that drunken driving has been reduced.

Beer was already legal in Corinth when 70 percent of the voters decided they wanted liquor as well in December 2012.

“We haven’t had any problems because of alcohol,” said Mayor Tommy Irwin. “Things have gone relatively well.”

In August 2013, Ripley voters narrowly approved alcohol. Beer passed with 56 percent of the vote and liquor gained 55 percent.

“It’s been about a year since sales started,” said Ripley Mayor Chris Marsalis. “We projected a slight increase in sales tax and did see a modest increase, probably $3,000 a month.

“Talking with the police chief, there has been no increase in moving violations, DUIs or breaking and entering. Nothing has really changed. About the only difference is the beer delivery trucks in town.”

In order to minimize the changes, Ripley banned outdoor advertising for alcohol.

“It hasn’t been a savior and it hasn’t been our downfall,” said Marsalis. “I think we reclaimed a good deal of tax money that was leaving town.”

Amory and Fulton officials hope to reclaim tax dollars leaving their cities as well. On Oct. 14, Amory voters will decide if they want both beer and liquor in their towns. Fulton voters will answer the same two questions on Oct. 28.

One quirk of the new law is it allows small county seats to also hold alcohol elections. In December 2012, Ashland, Benton County’s county seat, a town of 560 people, decided against allowing liquor by a vote of 120-109. To date, it is the only election under the new law where alcohol has not passed.

Pittsboro, the county seat of Calhoun County, only has around 200 residents and only needed about 20 signatures to meet the 20 percent of registered voters’ requirement.

“We have the signatures and they are being certified by the circuit clerk to make sure everyone lives in town,” said Pittsboro Mayor Reda Bullard. “We hope to have the election in November, if possible at the same time as the general election.”

The town board will set an election date at its Oct. 7 regular meeting.

The only other towns in the region that meet the 5,000-resident threshold and are still dry are Booneville and Houston. Booneville Mayor Derrick Blythe said his city voted down both beer and liquor in 2009 but he has heard a rumor about a liquor petition starting to circulate.

There are no reports for Houston, one of two Chickasaw County seats, to start a petition drive. Houston and its half of the county are dry and the Okolona side is wet.

Under the new law, Brandon, Brookhaven, Corinth, New Albany, Philadelphia, Pontotoc, Ripley, Senatobia and Waynesboro have all approved alcohol sales within their city limits.

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com


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