Next Tuesday, Nov. 6, voters in the city of Sulphur Springs will have the opportunity to vote for or against the legal sale of alcohlic beverages for the first time in many decades.
Several area cities have recently had the same proposals put to them.
On the Sulphur Springs ballot, there are two separate propositions.
Proposition 1 will allow the sale of beer and wine for off premises consumption only. Proposition 2 will allow the sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food and beverage certificate holders only.
There has been considerable discussion about both issues. Those supporting the legal sales say it would benefit the city in terms of increased sales tax revenues, more jobs and an initial increase in building permits.
Supporters also say food and beverage establishments — restaurants — would be saved private club fees and bookkeeping.
Opponents to the propositions say the increased revenues generated by taxes on the sale of alcoholic beverages would come at a cost and would increase alcohol-related incidents involving assault-family violence, drunk driving, public intoxication and underage drinking.
With positions both for and against in mind, the News-Telegram contacted several nearby cities where similar local option issues have passed.
Top city administrators in Paris, Greenville and Mineola shared what their respective communities have experienced with the legal sales of alcoholic beverages.
Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith conducted a survey of 25 communities asking the same questions regarding sales tax revenues, alcohol-related police issues and litter. He shared his findings with the News-Telegram.
Sheriff Smith said none of the cities polled saw an increase in crime or litter in their communities. Rockwall and Midlothian reported a decline in crime related to the sale of alcoholic beverages, Smith said.
John Godwin is the city manager of Paris and has been on the job there for about four months and could not offer much information about the impact in that city. Godwin, however, came to Paris from Fairview where voters in that community had approved a local option referendum.
“In Fairview the election did pass and it did have a positive effect on [city] because one of our priorities was economic development,” Godwin said. “It helped us in recruiting restaurants. A lot of sit-down, high-quality restaurants customers want to have that margarita with their Mexican food or the beer and the wine. It really makes a difference in their profit margin, and it makes a difference whether they come to your city or not.”
The legalization of alcoholic beverage sales in Fairview, he said, was a big economic development tool and was a deciding factor in the location of a Whole Foods grocery store, a division of H.E.B. and new restaurants, to Fairview.
“It was huge for us to get those restaurants and the big grocery store, but how much the sales were alcohol, we don’t know,” he said. “The only thing we got directly was we had eight or nine individual people who took out individual permits. But it clearly made a difference. Some of those restaurants would not have come, Whole Foods would not have come without it.”
For the city of Paris, Godwin said the issue was neither positive nor negative.
“No, it hasn’t come up as an issue either positive or negative,” Godwin said. “It’s just kind of part of the community, I guess, and I’ve not heard of problems and I’ve not heard it had a huge impact either way.”
Similar propositions to those on the Sulphur Springs ballot were passed last year in Greenville, and Assistant Police Chief Scott Smith said there has been very little change.
“No, we haven’t seen any appreciable difference prior to the local option and what we are experiencing now that we have the beer and wine sales,” Smith said.
Assistant Chief Smith was a member of a group in Greenville that reviewed what the city might expect from a law enforcement perspective.
“At the time, we felt comfortable that we could absorb whatever the workload was that could rise from [the election],” he said. “Since then, I have not seen any additional workload placed on us that, one, we didn’t anticipate, and most especially, we haven’t seen any rise that we did not anticipate.”
Was there an anticipated increase in traffic-related incidents?
“No, there wasn’t,” the assistant chief said. “Based on the surveys we did of similar cities who had recently undergone an election, and they too did not experience any appreciable changes. Most of the cities we surveyed were anywhere from just a few months out to a few years since their election.”
The legal sales in Greenville meant, essentially, those wanting to purchase alcoholic beverages did not have to drive as far.
“We had private clubs here, we have alcohol sales outside of the city in wet communities where you can purchase it and bring it back here to Greenville. That was occurring frequently, I would assume,” Greenville’s assistant chief said. “The changes to us is, I guess, folks have less driving to do, which is a good thing,” he said. “They will purchase their alcohol and go home rather than purchase their alcohol and consume it on the way home which, in our case, prior to the election, could be several miles, quite a few minutes down the road and that’s just looking for another problem to occur that we hadn’t experienced.”
Has there been any noticeable financial impact?
“With respect to the sales tax, what I was told is immediately after the local option election, we had a spike in sales tax revenue, but it soon fell back to what you would consider normal sale tax revenues,” he said.
In looking at the period that Greenville has had legal sales, overall would you say it has been good for or not good for Greenville?
“It would be my humble opinion, I would say, it’s been neither a negative nor a positive. I think this is an honest answer,” he said. “I can’t say that it’s harmed Greenville and I can’t say that it has helped Greenville — it’s all pretty neutral. Those that were going to purchase the alcohol and consume it are still doing that. They are just doing it here rather than elsewhere.”
In Mineola, City Administrator David Stevenson said voters approved similar issues by a narrow margin in May 2010.
Stevenson called the impact on sales tax revenues “good” for the community of 4,500, with another 7,500 residents living within that city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction area that extends about three miles from the city limits.
“For sales tax dollars, it has been very, very positive,” Stevenson said. “The city of Mineola, in our budget year of Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012, had a 19 1/2 to 20 percent increase in sales tax.
“What it has done is allow us to budget additional monies in all areas of municipal operations, additional equipment, vehicles for the police department — same thing for the fire department,” the assistant chief said. “We were actually able to double the size of our street capital improvement program. It has been very positive and has not increased the operational cost of the city in any shape, form or fashion.”
There was a slight increase in building permits experienced when convenience stores expanded to accommodate coolers and shelf space for beer and wine. Wal-Mart and Brookshire’s did not add to the size of their buildings, they just rearranged their merchandise.
The Mineola city manager said a city ordinance prohibits signs advertising alcoholic beverages and about the only thing you see are delivery trucks.
“You probably wouldn’t even know Mineola was wet unless you stopped and physically went inside one of the stores,” he said. “We don’t allow any signage advertising the sale of beer and wine except as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.”
In response to concerns by opposition groups of increased violence, drunk driving and other related criminal offenses, Stevenson said there was little change, and that change was a decline in the numbers.
“Very, very minimal,” Stevenson said. “There has not been any increase of direct alcohol-related crimes like public intoxication, DWI. It has been absolutely zero flat or maybe even decreased a little bit. There has not bee n any increase in major vehicle accidents — probably, really a decrease.
“Probably the number one increase that we’ve had is in the area of petty theft, shoplifting alcohol products from the stores,” he continued. “That has increased.”
The Mineola city administrator said the overall impact on his city could only be described as positive.
“I can’t say anything negative,” Stevenson said. “It’s been absolutely positive. From the sales tax point of view it has been absolutely positive from the economic development aspect, we’re getting more shoppers from out of town the people from some distance out of Mineola who are willing to travel to Mineola to purchase. We find that people from the Lindale area, from Quitman, Winnsboro and Grand Saline, we’re pulling more and more of these people to our local grocery stores, not just to get beer and wine, which obviously they do. They do their other shopping in Mineola while they are here. So, it has been a positive factor. We’ve attracted a couple of new restaurants and I suspect Sulphur Springs will be the same way – it’s going to be more attractive to your name brand restaurants.”
The question of whether to allow the legal sales of beer and wine for off-premises consumption only and the sales of mixed drinks by restaurants will be up to the voters to decide.
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