Wet County Ballot Initiative Sprouts Up in Saline, Craighead Counties

by Lee Hogan  on Monday, May. 5, 2014 4:26 pm  

Residents in Saline and Craighead counties will soon have the opportunity to sign a petition that would allow voters, on the November ballot, to decide whether retail alcohol sales should be allowed in those counties.

The Our Community, Our Dollars committee plans to begin petition drives this week in the two counties. Those drives are expected to last through early July.

Jay Allen, president of Our Community, Our Dollars and retired Wal-Mart executive, said the issue has not been addressed in Saline and Craighead counties in decades.

"Much has changed over time, and we want these counties to be have the opportunity to keep more sales tax revenue in their communities," Allen said in a news release. "The more tax revenue they ultimately receive, the better equipped they are to fund key services and amenities such as police, fire, [Emergency Medical Services], roads and parks."

Now, restaurants and hotels in the two counties must register as a private club, and therefore, purchase alcohol from a retailer in a neighboring county or somewhere else. The committee says if these counties were wet, restaurants and hotels could purchase alcohol from retailers in their counties, helping with convenience and economic issues in the counties.

According to state law, 38 percent of the registered voters in each county must sign a petition for the issue to make its way to the ballot in November. All signatures must be sent to the county clerk by early July for verification. Based on the most recent counts of registered voters in each county, the petition will need about 25,000 certified signatures in Saline County and 20,000 signatures in Craighead County.

The committee has hired National Ballot Access to lead drives in Saline and Craighead counties.

NBA was part of a similar drive in Benton County in 2012, which voted to become a wet county in that year's election.

The committee is being funded by Arkansas retailers and has gained sponsorships from Wal-Mart and Kum & Go. 

“Across Arkansas our customers are telling us they want added convenience and choice when shopping for adult beverages,” Ashley Taylor, Wal-Mart Arkansas vice president and regional general manager, said in the news release. “We can offer our customers an assortment of beer, wine and liquor as part of a convenient and comfortable one-stop shopping experience."

Taylor said Wal-Mart can provide the products in a "responsible manner" and "continue to work with suppliers, retailers, legislators and other stakeholders to modernize adult beverage laws that limit consumer choice and convenience."

Other retailers are expected to join the cause, the committee says.



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