Beer Sales Hearing

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 4, 2009

Batesville Ward 4 Alderman Eddie Nabors (left) and Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow study the names on no-Sunday-sales petitions that were handed to the city leaders at a Tuesday hearing on the topic. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

Public vote on beer sales suggested at hearing

By Billy Davis

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Batesville’s mayor and board of aldermen, gathered Tuesday for a public hearing, were pummeled with a lop-sided message: say no to Sunday beer sales in the city.

“Why in the world do we even need it?” asked Kevin Crofford, speaking near the end of the hour and five-minute hearing.

“Why do we need it if people already have six days to buy (beer)?” Crofford, who pastors Sardis Lake Baptist Church, also asked.

Crofford and a sprinkling of other pastors, as well as other opponents, dominated the hearing, which was held in the municipal court building on the Downtown Square.

All totaled, 14 people spoke against the idea and three spoke in favor of it, while the opinions of a couple of others were murky.

A date for a board vote on the issue has not been announced, Mayor Jerry Autrey said after the meeting.

Sales tax collections have sunk in Batesville during the current recession, and Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow has suggested the idea of Sunday beer sales as a means to recoup more revenue.

Figures cited by Morrow, and shared with Autrey and other aldermen, showed that 16 percent of beer sales in grocery stores, and 14 percent of beer sales in convenience stores, occur on Sunday.

In Batesville, 41 grocery and convenience stores sold $3.4 million in beer in 2008, generating $242,421 in sales tax for the city.

The suggested ordinance would affect restaurants and stores but liquor stores would remain closed on Sunday.

Starkville and Columbus, just in recent days, have voted to allow Sunday beer sales.

In Columbus, the mayor cast the deciding vote to break a 3-3 tie among aldermen, The Clarion-Ledger reported.

Batesville aldermen may also split the vote 2-2 since Alderman Stan Harrison, a restaurant owner, has recused himself. Mayor Autrey, who may be forced to vote, has not publicly stated his position on the issue.

At the Tuesday hearing, Batesville attorney Andy Yelton rose first to champion the idea of Sunday beer sales. 

He recalled that so-called “blue laws” had once prohibited retail establishments from opening on Sundays. Sunday, following Saturday, is presently the second-busiest day for retail, he said.  

Yelton was eventually followed by fellow proponents, attorney Helen Kelly and business owner Scott Harrison, whose opinions were sprinkled among the throng of vocal opponents.

Both Kelly and Harrison complained that opponents of Sunday beer sales have made the issue a religious one and have pointedly called support of Sunday sales an un-Christian position.

“I’m a Christian and I don’t drink,” said Harrison, though he said he still supports the idea.

Responding to the issue of underage drinking, Kelly said teenagers smoking marijuana is a more pressing issue in the community.

Some of the Sunday sales opponents who spoke included Panola Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock; Calvary Baptist Church pastor Paul Middleton; former alderman Rufus Manley, and Brady McMillan, an accident reconstruction investigator for the Miss. Highway Patrol.

Middleton rose toward the end of the hearing to dispute Yelton’s claim that debate over the issue could be attributed to age, with younger people supporting Sunday sales and older people saying they’re opposed.

“Calvary is a young congregation,” Middleton said. “And we urge you not to let alcohol be sold on Sunday.”

Batesville resident Chris Brocato provided the most light-hearted moment, when he said the hearing was attended by both “good people” and “bad people.”

But Brocato’s position on Sunday beer sales was never made clear, and the audience chuckled at the ambiguous observation.

Brocato did present an original idea at the hearing: hold a special election for Batesville residents to decide the issue.

Mayor Autrey, reached a day after the hearing, said he had spoken to two people – from opposing viewpoints – and both suggested a vote by the citizenry. The mayor said he has spoken to Assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell about a special election.

Mitchell told The Panolian he is awaiting an official go-ahead from the mayor and board of aldermen before he researches the topic of a special election.

The legality of a special election is uncertain since Batesville voted in 1970 to allow alcohol sales but restricted those sales to six days a week.

“It’s going to take some research and that will take a good bit of time,” Mitchell said.