By P.J. Tracy
While the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered efforts by the Pike County Improvement Committee to place the referendum of legalizing alcohol sales before county voters this November, the group is still looking to fulfill the mission.
The group met last Thursday and is placing a call for volunteers to help them in their mission of obtaining 1,959 signed petitions, which is 38% of the 5,154 registered voters in Pike County as of the June 2019 certification process by the Pike County Clerk.
The committee, which is currently comprised of four people, is seeking help from all areas of the county including Delight, Kirby and Glenwood as well as Murfreesboro.
“We are looking to assess community interest,” said committee member Jack Bonds. “Procrastination is our enemy at this point, and we’ve been unable to collect a sufficient number of petitions.”
While several options are still on the table, including paying petition gatherers and drive-through petition signings, the group said they will simply need more help than the four of them can provide in order to make the goal of the referendum a realistic possibility.
If anyone is interested in helping the group in their mission, or simply would like a petition to sign, they can contact any of the members on the committee or visit the group’s Facebook page.
Additionally, the group is seeking businesses who are willing to volunteer space to help accommodate drive-through collections at times yet to be determined.
“The reality is that we realize we have two months, and we are trying to figure out how many people are willing to help, and then can organize these drive-throughs and whatever else we need to do to get it done, but four people can’t do it alone.”
The committee is comprised of Bonds (214) 733-0452, Jean Floyd (850) 865-8548, Laurie Westfall (870) 584-7926 or Jamie Terrell (870) 285-5288.
“People can private message the Facebook page or call us … if they are wanting to sign a petition, we will deliver them one wherever they tell us to bring it,” said Terrell.
Terrell stressed that each petition is a single page for each individual and that each signer will remain anonymous, as well as that signing a petition in no way is a vote “for” the measure — it is simply a step down the pathway toward letting the voters of Pike County exercise their will on the issue.
“Due to COVID-19 we haven’t been able to do some of the stuff that we planned [to collect petitions], so we are having to change and do it this way … if other people are interested, we have to have help,” said Terrell about the public at large. “We are very much looking for input, volunteers and committee members from all parts of the county.”
Ultimately, the group is using the premise of financial gain for the whole county as their justification for seeking the change from “dry” to “wet” — especially in light of the county’s reliance on tourism spending.
“We feel like this will expand the economy … especially in light that tax revenues may be down [due to the pandemic],” said Bonds. “With the importance of tourism on our county — in both ends of the county, Glenwood and Murfreesboro — an upbeat economy will benefit us all.”
“It’s the right time and the county needs to do it,” Terrell added. “It will bring additional tax revenue that is currently leaving our county.”
Bonds used the term “compounded value” to state the overall plan of expanding the tourism experience in the county that includes recreation (canoeing, fishing, boating, searching for diamonds, etc.) as well as motel reservations, eating at restaurants and shopping at local stores.
“All of this is taxable goods and all of this goes into the coffers, so the idea here is that we are not just getting tax on a beer, but that we are drawing people here to maximize taxable value for all goods and services. At that point, you are hiring more people to perform theses services, and we are building a more viable economy. The reality is that if [tourists] have to drive toward Hot Springs in search of alcohol, they are much more likely to stay there and spend their tax dollars in other counties.”
As for sales to local residents, the committee collectively feels that current lack of local sales probably doesn’t meaningfully restrict the consumption of alcohol for those who wish to do so.
The final day to turn in the required petitions would be August 5. Pike County Clerk Randee Reid and her staff would then have 10 days to certify the signed petitions to ensure the proper number had been met.
For a petition to be valid, the signer must be over 18 years of age and a registered voter of Pike County.
Reid stressed that any petition signers make sure their address matches the one on file with her office, because incorrect addresses will invalidate the petition.
Those who are interested in signing a petition, but are not registered to vote or are registered in another county, are asked to call the Pike County Clerk’s office at (870) 285-2743 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to amend their registration status.
Should the measure not qualify for the ballot this November, any effort to try again will have to wait until the 2022 general election.