By P.J. Tracy
Having fallen behind their progress goals to this point, the group Vote Pike County Arkansas Wet (VPCAW) will be having their second mail-out this week.
Unlike the first effort earlier this year, all registered voters of the county will receive a pair of cards in the mail this time around.
The first will be a notice that will come by mail is a promotional piece reminding residents that the ballot will follow in a few days. It also states the benefits, from their viewpoint, of voting legalized alcohol sales in the county.
Those points include:
• Endorsement by the Pike County Sheriff’s Department and the Murfreesboro Advertising and Tourism Commission
• Wet counties have fewer driving under the influence/driving while intoxicated (DUI/DWI) charges and deaths per capita than dry counties
• 65% of tourists drink alcohol while on vacation
• Increased tourism dollars, allowing the county’s communities to build growth via greater numbers of business opportunities
The card reminds potential voters that the effort must receive a minimum of 2,195 signed and verified petitions and that it won’t be accomplished without the public’s help. It also definitively states that each submitted petition will remain confidential.
Additionally, each petition contains a place for registered voters to select “no” if they are against the measure. While such a choice is not the same as voting against such a measure should it reach the ballot in November, it does provide an option for those not willing to select yes.
A few days after receiving the first mailout, voting-eligible residents will receive the same petition as was sent out before.
Petitions may be returned and signed in person at all following locations:
• Glenwood: OK Cafe, Charlie’s Body Shop, Slingerz and Shooterz, El Diamante Mexican Restaurant, Racehorse Convenience Store, Glenwood Tobacco Store, Citi Pawn
• Kirby: Kirby Kwick Stop, Dunlap’s Store
• Newhope: Newhope Store
• Delight: Delight Mall
• Murfreesboro: Feed Bin Cafe, Gypsy Underground, Branch Oil, Flicky T’z
Chairman for the group, Jack Bonds, said the effort is solely intended to increase tourism in Pike County, and reminded residents that their participation was important for the effort to move forward.
“We are getting down to the wire, to the point of urgency,” Bonds stated definitively.
“We are behind our goal with the deadline fast approaching. This won’t happen without you, and that’s the bottom line.”
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 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 VPCAW 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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
The group is also seeking volunteers to man stations in high traffic areas across the county.
For more information about volunteering or meeting times, call Jack Bonds at (214) 733-0452 or Jamie Terrell (870) 285-5288.