Liquor laws

Referendums in Alcoa and Townsend barely causing a ripple of response as residents prepare to vote

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Having an alcoholic drink in two Blount County towns just might get easier if referendums dealing with liquor are passed
during the Tuesday, Nov. 7, election.

In Townsend, voters will decide on whether or not to allow liquor by the drink. In Alcoa, residents will vote on whether to allow a package store in the city.

The two referendums have barely caused a ripple of comment -- positive or negative -- in either town.

In Alcoa, assistant city manager Bill Hammond said the referendum is a private initiative that a private individual took to the election commission to have put on the ballot. Having the measure pass could help add to the general fund to pay city services, he said. "With all the tugs and pulls on revenue sources, it would be one more revenue source the city would have available to work through the general fund process," he said.

Patrick Norris of St. Ives subdivision circulated a flier and purchased ads in support of the measure.

According to Norris, there hasn’t been a lot of response from citizens about the referendum. "I don’t know what feelings are," he said. "I don’t know why people would vote against it."

Norris said the city of Alcoa has the same problems all cities have, stretching budget dollars to pay for city services. "Alcoa this next year is going to get hit with this new Wal-Mart that’s going to open up in Maryville, and they estimate the tax revenue loss (from the Alcoa Wal-Mart) to be in excess of $400,000. That’s a bunch. I guess (city services) cost whatever they cost. There’s going to be a shortage," he said.

Norris said there are liquor stores in Maryville and Knoxville and that’s where sales tax dollars are going instead of to Alcoa.
"The city has to have the money. If they don’t, they have to increase taxes or cut services," he said. "This is an effort to let people in Alcoa (who want to) buy a bottle of wine, which they can not do in Alcoa now, keep the taxes from that purchase in Alcoa."

A retired banker, Norris said he was undecided on whether he would want to start a liquor store in Alcoa if the measure passes.

"I don’t know that I’d be interested in owning a liquor store," he said. "I just want to keep the taxes as low as possible. I haven’t ruled it out or thought it out. There’s no point in planning for something until the vote."

Rev. Anthony Dunnings, director of the Martin Luther King Center, spends his days working with youth. Between 35 and 45 students from throughout the area receive tutoring at the center, in conjunction with the New Vision Church of God in Christ congregation.

Dunning said he hasn’t heard much from the community regarding the referendum and that he didn’t want to express an opinion either way on the subject. "The most I’ve heard about it is from the standpoint of the (city of ) Maryville’s move to add another store. (That) is the most I’ve heard about it," he said. "I haven’t encountered any big push for or against the referendum. It’s a personal, moral issue. It’s a person’s own conviction."

In Townsend, residents will choose whether or not they want liquor by the drink in the town’s restaurants and
establishments. Herb Handly, vice president of the Great Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said passing the measure would help tourism in the town.

"We’re really positive about it for several reasons," Handly said. "For one, we are a tourism destination, and obviously we have several large destinations around us who do currently have bar service in their restaurants. If this were to be voted in, it would put us on a more level playing field with restaurants. From a competitive standpoint, it would make us a little more equal to other destinations."

Secondly, Handly said when tourists make their decision as to what destination they’re going to go to, obviously it means the town should offer the same kinds of things as other areas. If bar service is important to visitors, then Townsend should have it, he said.

"It will create additional revenue, and the city of Townsend does not have tremendous amounts of cash being generated," Handly said.

Handly said that lastly, if there are restaurants interested in locating to the Townsend area, they might be a little more likely to consider Townsend if there is liquor by the drink.

"I really don’t think we’re going to see very many restaurants take on the bar service. I think more of our restaurants that specialize in evening dining will probably do it, particularly wine," he said.

Handly said having liquor by the drink could also be safer because it would allow the restaurant to control how much someone was served. While some restaurants allow patrons to bring their own wine, "you lose a bit of control as to making sure it is being responsibly served," he said. "I can’t think of anything negative (about the measure). I don’t see it being a problem."

Matt Alexander, owner of the Dancing Bear Lodge, serves liquor by the drink at his dining facility by special provision since the business is considered a premier resort.

Alexander said liquor by the drink could be a positive. "I believe there are two things that restaurants are looking for -- traffic count and the ability to have liquor by the drink," he said. "This will help enormously to bring more restaurants to the Townsend area."

Alexander said liquor by the drink rivals installing a sewer system in the town in terms of drawing new restaurants. "I would say sewers are very important," he said. "Hopefully one day that will happen, but that’s years out, where liquor by the drink could happen this year."

According to Alexander, approving the measure would help present and future business. "I think more restaurants will come in and existing restaurants will be able to stay open throughout the year," he said.

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