By P.J. Tracy
Despite being tripped up by the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, an attempt to get legalized liquor sales in Pike County on the ballot in November of 2022 had moved into the latter stages of planning,
The group Vote Pike County Wet (VPCW) will have to navigate the procedure of getting enough signatures of registered voters in Pike County to allow for the referendum.
Chairman for the group, Jack Bonds, said the effort was intended to increase tourism in Pike County.
To illustrate tourism’s impact on the state, Bonds cites the figure of $690 per year that each citizen of Arkansas would have to pay in extra taxes to equal the revenue that the tourism industry brings in statewide.
He adds that, in the group’s mind, the move is indeed primarily intended to target tourists to the area and not the local populace.
“This will enable restaurants to sell adult beverages … the absolute reality is that this will neither significantly increase nor decrease local alcohol consumption. The tax revenue of the local purchases would be nice, but not important enough when you consider the whole picture. It won’t make us or break us alone on local sales. Allowing alcohol sales within the county will draw more tourists — these tourists will spend more money by staying in hotels and creating more business, ultimately offering more opportunities for employment for the residents of Pike County. The communities of Pike County are what is important.”
Bonds said that the tourism growth of the area has led to the creation of more vacation rental homes or “Airbnbs” and has had a definitive impact on the local citizenry.
“This has created a real estate shortage across the whole county for in the first time in recent memory, which has raised property values in Pike County.”
As such, to help draw and convince even more tourists to stay in the multi-formatted vacation-based lodging of the county, legalizing alcohol sales is the next logical step to the VPCW group.
“Tourists often come from regions that are wet and are unaccustomed to being in a place where a beer is restricted. Often, [upon discovering Pike County is dry] they are bewildered and leave town, taking the revenue with them.
“In an attempt to build a better community, the board of Vote Pike County Arkansas Wet will work toward placing an opportunity on the ballot so the residents of the community can choose wether or not they wish to participate,” said Bonds.
Despite the fact that covid hamstrung the last effort to gain access to the ballot, Bonds said the group was encouraged by counties in the state recently gaining “wet” status, including nearby Sevier County in 2020.
“Most tourism-based counties that are dry want to go wet — you are behind the eight-ball if you aren’t. You will be much less likely to be a destination of choice for visitors, they will simply move down the road.”
Also, Bonds added that waiting for the state to pass a referendum making the whole state wet — as had been on the ballot recently — was likely a failing proposition as counties with legalized alcohol sales have no incentive to vote to change the status of nearby dry counties.
“Clark County, for example, would never be in favor of such a referendum, because they are wet and and draw a good amount of revenue from Pike County in the current state of things. They don’t want to willingly eliminate that.”
Bonds also added that a county is limited on the number of liquor stores by the population, which excludes restaurants and places that simply sell beer or wine.
The state has a threshold of approximately 7,500 people, which would likely limit Pike County to a single, or perhaps two at best, liquor store that would be allowed to sell hard liquor.
“Because of regulations and restrictions, they can’t be close to churches — so one wouldn’t really fit well on the main part of Washington Street in Murfreesboro, for example. It can’t happen, by state law.”
He said the group will ultimately need the help of the county’s registered voters — which was 5,776 as of the last qualifying certification on June 1, 2020, according to Pike County Clerk Randee Reid.
To officially allow the issue to go to a ballot referendum, the group must collect the signatures of 38% of that pool of registered voters — 2,195 to be exact — in order to clear the legal hurdle for countywide consideration.
The exact date the complete petition must be turned in to the county clerk for certification has yet to be officially determined, as Reid said the issue had to be resolved by the VPCW group’s attorney, as for liability avoidance she was not allowed to give any further information.
“We have to collect 38% of the signatures of registered voters, and only registered voters count [toward the effort],” said Bonds.
The group also seeks input from the residents as they begin to put in place their preferred steps toward collecting the signatures.
“We value your feedback — we meet weekly, if you wish to participate.”
For more information about the issue or meeting times, call Jack Bonds at (214) 733-0452 or Jamie Terrell (870) 285-5288.
A Facebook page has been created by the group — Vote Pike County AR Wet — and will be utilized to further communicate information with residents of the county down the road.