Displaying items by tag: Alcohol

With Gov. Beverly Perdue reversing her stance on her previous suggestion to privatize liquor sales, towns can rest assured they’ll probably not soon see this important revenue stream go dry.

In Waynesville, beneficiary of about $170,000 in annual profits from its ABC store, Perdue’s announcement might give the local ABC board the reassurance it needs to decide how to best handle cramped quarters. Should Waynesville build a new store as previously considered near the big, new Super Wal-Mart; or, should Waynesville simply expand its existing ABC store? said Town Manager Lee Galloway.

The state’s ABC commission in March approved Waynesville’s request to build a second store. Indecision over whether the state might privatize liquor sales put the plan into limbo, however.

Though, truthfully, Galloway wasn’t all that worried about this looming financial threat to the town’s coffers. He said he believes if the proposal moves forward, which seems highly doubtful now without Perdue’s backing, the state would find another method of reimbursing towns for the docked dollars.

Perdue made her I’m-now-against-privatization announcement last week at a meeting of county commissioners attending a legislative goals session in Durham. In the audience was Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale, whose primary concern centered on consumption, not revenue. In this, the local Democrat had an ally in the Christian Action League of North Carolina, which bills itself as having the largest networks of members, volunteers and churches of any Christian public-policy group in the state.

The Christian Action League opposed privatization on the grounds people might drink more if access wasn’t state controlled. Walter Harris, president of the Association of ABC Boards, flatly stated he, too, believed privatization would result in increased imbibing.

“I think it is a wise decision not to put liquor at every stop,” Beale said, adding that North Carolina’s less-than-happy experience with privatizing mental-health care raises serious questions about such initiatives.

Billed as “reform,” many critics — including Beale — have said the new mental-health care system in North Carolina fails to provide the state’s most vulnerable residents with basic, much less adequate, care.

Some highly placed Republicans in the now GOP-controlled legislature had expressed their concerns, too, about letting private business owners sell liquor out of grocery stores or other retail stops. North Carolina currently controls every aspect of the more than $5 billion business, but the governor was eyeing privatization as a means of generating dollars to help with the state’s $3.7 billion shortfall.

Adding fuel to the idea of letting vendors handle liquor sales were a number of lurid headline-generating stories about high times by, and high salaries of, some ABC board members downstate.

Such issues, Beale said, can best be handled through other means than simply handing off sales to private business owners.

Franklin Mayor Joe Collins said he believes the current system works, and that by confining liquor sales to (in Franklin’s case) a single store, “certain challenges” surrounding alcoholic beverage sales are more easily controlled. The mayor added he was pleased that, after study, the governor was willing to squelch her own idea.

Canton Town Manager Al Matthews said he isn’t so sure the matter is closed, however, and said the issue merits continued monitoring. Canton, particularly, might have been in a bit of a pickle if privatization had occurred — it has a relatively new ABC store, and sales revenue is being used to offset the building costs.

“Somebody was going to be stuck with a debt,” Matthews said.


2010 gross sales at area ABC stores

Canton    $964,474

Maggie Valley    $1,588,210

Waynesville    $2,107,992

Sylva    $2,610,265*

Franklin    $2,434,888

Highlands    $1,567,570

Bryson City    $1,751,508*

SOURCE: North Carolina ABC Commission

* Bryson City and Sylva sales include alcohol purchased by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

By Patti Tiberi • Guest Columnist

“Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth. A higher percentage of young people between the ages of 12 and 20 use alcohol than use tobacco or illicit drugs. The physical consequences of underage alcohol use range from medical problems to death by alcohol poisoning, and alcohol plays a significant role in risky sexual behavior, physical and sexual assaults, various types of injuries, and suicide. Underage drinking also creates secondhand effects for others, drinkers and nondrinkers alike, including car crashes from drunk driving, that put every child at risk. Underage alcohol consumption is a major societal problem with enormous health and safety consequences and will demand the nation’s attention and committed efforts to solve.”

This is a direct quote from former Acting Surgeon General Rear Admiral Kenneth Moritsugu, from his “Call To Action” in 2007.  But one may wonder why there is all this fuss about underage drinking. Isn’t it just something that is “a rite of passage?” Don’t all kids do it?

Well, the answer is no. Many of us like to look back and say, “We survived it, they will too!” Truth be told, there are many that did not survive it and they are not here to tell their side of the story. Many of us ended up going through many years of grief as we struggled to manage our disease of alcoholism. Few people in recovery speak out in public about their struggles to manage their disease. There is still a very strong stigma attached to having alcoholism.

But the reality is that more young people in the U.S. drink alcohol every month than smoke cigarettes or use any illegal drug. Additionally, alcohol kills more young people per year than all illegal drugs combined!

Many studies show that media advertising of alcohol products is a major factor in decisions made by 12- to 20-year olds to start drinking or drink more heavily if they are already drinkers. In a recently released report, the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) noted that, since 2000, many alcohol companies have voluntarily reduced their advertising in markets with greater than 30 percent underage audiences.

However, the report stated that alcohol advertising in markets with more than a 15 percent youth population still results in overexposure. While the industry has made progress, more needs to be done to limit the amount of alcohol promotion our young people see on TV, movies and in magazines.

The availability of alcoholic drinks that have a sweet taste, like lemonade, is also a concern because they seem designed to appeal to young people. Plus, alcohol products like malt liquor can often cost less than soda. Even if it can’t be purchased legally by young people, the low cost makes it easier to pay someone to purchase it for them.

Children are beginning to drink at an earlier age in a day when we know much more about the impact that alcohol use has on the changing adolescent brain. Our science now reports that youth who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence. But every day in our country, 7,000 youth under the age of 16 take their first drink.

While we used to find that boys drank more heavily than girls, we now see that girls have caught up and are drinking just as heavily. (Institute of Medicine, National Research Council of the National Academics)

It is important that you help. First thing, please help to reduce the availability of alcohol to youth under 21. If you have alcohol at home, keep it in a secure place and monitor it. Second, help support law enforcement in targeting the underage drinking issue. This could be something as simple as getting to know the parents of your child’s friends and agreeing with them about not serving alcohol to youth under 21. Third, get involved locally to help change your community’s norms around alcohol use. Learn more about the issue by checking out the following websites: alcoholfreechildren.org, ncpud.org, faceproject.org, and drugfree.org.


(Patti Tiberi is the Regional Prevention Coordinator at Smoky Mountain Center and the Chair of Healthy Haywood’s Substance Abuse Action Team. For more information on how to get involved with a Health Action Team, go to www.healthyhaywood.org or call 828.452.6675. Healthy Haywood is a program of the Haywood County Health Department and certified Healthy Carolinians partnership.

When the Bryson City and Sylva ABC boards hammered out a profit-sharing agreement for liquor orders from Harrah’s Casino, there was widespread speculation the new revenue source would bring in big money.

But the reality, so far, has been different.

“It’s not doing anywhere near what people thought it was going to do,” said Bryson City ABC store manager David Maynard.

The Bryson City store does the ordering and records the revenue on its books, then passes along a share of profits to the Sylva ABC board since the Cherokee reservation lies in both Swain and Jackson.

Harrah’s Cherokee opened its first full service bar in May, placing a start-up order with the ABC store that bumped its monthly sales numbers up 50 percent from the year before.

But since then, mixed beverages sales to the casino have averaged between $6,000 and $8,000 per week.

“That sounds like a lot of money, but the state takes a good chunk of it. We thought it was going to be a whole lot more money as far as sales. I think everybody did,” said Maynard.

With the state, the Sylva ABC board, and the tribe all involved in the formula of alcohol sales to the casino, sales don’t exactly turn directly into profit.

“It has help us make an increase from last year as far as sales, but it hasn’t helped out the profits yet,” Maynard said.


By the numbers

A spike in the volume of liquor passing through the Bryson City ABC store is a direct reflection on the bottles of booze headed for Harrah’s Casino since alcohol was legalized there.

May 2010

Walk-in customers    $124,192

Sales to retail outlets    $91,857

Total Sales    $216,049

May 2009

Walk-in customers    $129,134

Sales to retail outlets    $11,965

Total Sales    $141,099

Just over a year ago, the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted to allow alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel while the rest of the reservation would remain dry.

The controversial ballot measure pitted economic development proponents who saw alcohol sales as a necessary step in developing a world-class resort against opponents with moral qualms about alcohol, believing it would lead to social ills.

While the social impacts of alcohol sales at the casino are impossible to quantify, the effect on the casino’s bottom line has been instantaneous.

Meanwhile, Harrah’s Cherokee is in the midst of a massive $600 million expansion project that aims to position its brand as an international resort destination.

For general manager Darold Londo, the business’s aspirations made the addition of alcohol sales almost a requirement.

“We never really would have gotten to a resort definition without certain amenities,” said Londo. “Although it’s arguable whether alcohol was totally necessary, it’s brought us in line with our competitors.”

Londo also said the fears of alcohol opponents haven’t come to fruition.

“It has not created the problems that were anticipated by some tribal members,” Londo said.

To Jessica Nifong, 23, a tourist who stopped in to the casino while visiting Cherokee last week, alcohol is indeed necessary.

“I expect it. I think it’s part of the environment because it helps people relax,” said Nifong, who is from Winston-Salem. “I just assumed it would be there.”

So far this year Harrah’s Cherokee has recorded $1.3 million in alcohol sales, serving nearly 200,000 drinks to around 15 percent of its guests. The casino’s management estimates that guests who consume alcohol have contributed $5 to $10 million in gaming revenue during the same period.

The sale of alcohol has provided a quick revenue boost and evened the playing field, but it hasn’t brought in as much money as the management predicted.

See also: Casino impact on ABC sales not a windfall yet

Rolling out in a harsh environment

“The alcohol sales have been less than expected, and there are a number of reasons,” said Norma Moss, an enrolled member of the tribe who served for 10 years on the Tribal Casino Gaming board and recently took on the role of assistant general manager of resort operations.

Moss, who pushed hard for the ballot measure, said the casino’s slower-than-expected alcohol sales have to be seen in relation to what’s happening at all casinos around the country. The casino business is down like many other sectors of the economy, and alcohol sales in particular have dropped off.

Londo said that has to do with the consumer mentality.

“People out there, including me, aren’t buying that second glass of wine or that extra dessert,” Londo said.

Also, Harrah’s Cherokee spent 13 years attracting customers who didn’t need alcohol.

“By definition, we were serving a customer base for whom alcohol wasn’t a requirement,” Londo said.

Lastly, the rollout of alcohol sales has been gradually phased in, and it’s still not fully integrated into the business model.

At first, the casino introduced only beer and wine sales and only at its restaurants in October 2009. Beer and wine made it to the casino floor in December.

Liquor became an option in January, but mixed drinks didn’t really hit the floor until May of this year when the first bona fide bar opened.

In July, an entertainment lounge with a full bar, televisions and a stage came online. The lounge offers patrons the first environment designed with alcohol consumption in mind, a place you can listen to music or watch football only 20 feet from the gaming floor.

Roger Clarke, 74, of Ft. Myers, Fla., was shopping in downtown Cherokee last week. He’d been to the casino the night before and appreciated the new bar.

“I prefer having the option myself,” Clarke said.

At the same time, the gaming floor and casino entrance have been totally renovated. The new design scheme feels clean and modern.

Moss said the new HVAC system could handle the 100 percent transfer of circulated air, which means that even when people are smoking right next to you, you can still breathe.

In the meantime the gaming floor went from 3,400 games to 4,700 — 160 of the new additions are table-based.

Londo wants to see all of the casino’s features operating before he guesses at the impact of alcohol revenue on the business model.

“The whole process is still in its infancy. It’s still developing, but for the customer’s, there’s the impression of a full-service alcohol environment,” Londo said.

Gamers and walk-ins

The casino business serves two distinct client segments, casual walk-ins that form the retail customer market and loyal “gamers” who spend their money playing the odds.

According to Londo, the recession has cut deepest into the number of retail visitors the casino gets, but “gamers” are the ones who tend to drink, according to industry stats.

“It’s not 20-year-olds or 30-year-olds or 60-year-olds who drink,” Londo said. “It’s not females or Asians or anything else. But if you’re looking at gamers, they tend to be more likely to consume alcohol.”

The recession has unsettled gamers as a group too, because they were used to amenities like free drinks on the floor as long as they were gambling.

Londo said the Harrah’s Cherokee model didn’t support alcohol as a freebie.

“Some gaming customers have been used to getting the product free or at cost, and it was incumbent on us to introduce the product at closer to market price,” Londo said.

He believes the shift away from free drinks and food may be a broader paradigm in the industry.

Londo, sees alcohol sales as a defensive measure that will help the business hold its ground as the recession grinds on.

“It gives us a hook or a stickiness that from a defensive standpoint has allowed us to hold customers or keep customers,” Londo said. “It’s hard to quantify that because year after over year, organically, all businesses are off, including us.”

While revenue is up at the casino compared to last year, it is still down compared to pre-recession levels. Tribal members who supported alcohol sales hoped the new revenue stream would offset losses stemming from the recession.

Fifty percent of the casino’s profits go back to the tribe’s membership in the form of per capita payments. After years of growth, per capita payments dropped 11 percent in late 2008, and proponents of alcohol sales were hoping alcohol sales at the casino would help reverse that trend.

Creating a new brand

“If you look at Harrah’s casinos east of the Mississippi, the properties that continue to update and invest in the future seem to be holding up better than their peers to weather the storm and position themselves,” Londo said.

According to Londo, the Harrah’s operations in Hammond, Ind. and Atlantic City, N.J., have out-performed their peers, precisely because they’re still trying to grow at a time while industry giants like Mohegan Sun, the nation’s second largest casino, are still off.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel planned its expansion before the recession hit, but it began in earnest last year. By January 2011 the resort will boast the largest hotel in the state, 21 stories offering 1,108 rooms, 68 suites and 8 premium suites.

Moss called the new hotel tower, which sits in a valley surrounded by high peaks, the “miracle in the mountains” during its topping off ceremony in April.

In addition to the hotel, the newly constructed 3,000-seat concert venue opening Labor Day weekend will bring in acts like Hank Williams Jr. and Crosby, Stills and Nash. A 16,000-square foot spa will be the last element in the expansion to open in 2012.

The new amenities are all designed to create a resort feel for patrons. Cherokee already boasts a championship golf course and trophy fly-fishing water.

Londo said by expanding and including alcohol, the casino has been able to pursue branding partnerships with Paula Deen’s Kitchen and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

Londo said so far, it’s been hard to track the impact of alcohol sales separate from the other pieces of the expansion on the business.

“It’s hard to say this one area is responsible. They’ve all helped us improve the package,” Londo said. “If it was an excuse not to come before, we’ve satisfied that.”

The customers’ experience

“The bottom line is customers expect to have alcohol in a casino environment, and it’s gratifying to know we can offer it,” Moss said.

But after more than a decade operating without alcohol, Harrah’s Cherokee has had to implement a whole new business model in the midst of a recession. If the climate wasn’t ideal, at least the expansion afforded the opportunity to create a building with the distribution and delivery in mind.

“The property was never set up to accommodate alcohol from the distribution standpoint so all of that had to happen, and it was timely because we were in the midst of an expansion anyway,” Londo said.

Now everything from distribution loading docks to plumbing to multi-game consoles in the bars make it possible to keep the drinks flowing. Londo said because most Harrah’s casinos have alcohol, the model was already there.

“The processes, the procedures and the know-how to implement it in the business model were readily available to us,” Londo said. “It has its uniqueness, but it’s not as challenging as you might think.”

One of the most unique elements of the business model is that it took a referendum of a sovereign nation to get the green light.

“The message of the referendum was that the membership wanted it and they believed it was necessary to the casino’s success,” Moss said.

Londo is less worried about alcohol sales than with how the overall economy is looking. He said there could be worse things than running a casino in a mountain valley situated between Charlotte and Atlanta.

“You take the good with the bad,” Londo said “There’s not a more beautiful place to operate a casino.”

By Michael Morris • Guest Columnist

The sale of alcohol has become a hot topic in Western North Carolina. In 2010, voters in Burnsville and Weaverville passed ballot measures approving alcohol sales, and last August voters in Clay County approved countywide alcohol sales.

Here in Jackson County, consumers have been able to purchase on-premises beer and wine in Dillsboro since 2005. In Sylva, the county seat, alcohol sales have been permitted in some form since 1967, and voters approved on-premises mixed beverage sales in 2006.

More recently, a Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute/Smoky Mountain News poll indicated that 56 percentof registered voters would support legalizing countywide alcohol in Jackson County.

One part of the county that has the potential to benefit from countywide alcohol sales is the area surrounding Western Carolina University. The university and its surrounding community is growing and expanding at a fairly rapid pace. With the expansion of the university, there is potential to attract business, expand infrastructure, and become a place that offers residents an enhanced array of goods and services.

Concerned residents of Jackson County may be fearful that alcohol consumption among the student population will increase, causing more alcohol-related illegal activity than previously seen in Cullowhee and surrounding areas. As a student at Western Carolina University, I am deeply concerned about the potential negative effects that legalizing the sale of alcohol will have on the student and non-students residents of Jackson County.

However, there are some real advantages to locating bars and restaurants within walking distance of the campus. I know too many students who make the dangerous drive between Sylva and Cullowhee, and on-campus establishments would make it possible to walk to a restaurant, have a couple of beers, then walk home safely.

Other areas in Jackson County may also benefit from the expanded sale of alcohol. Tuckasegee, Cashiers, and parts of Jackson County near Cherokee could attract restaurants that would normally not be interested in locating in an area without the option to sell alcohol.  These restaurants would enhance the quality of life in these communities and contribute to the county’s tax base.

Many locales within Jackson County are doing themselves a disservice by allowing or even pushing revenue away from their areas. It is likely that Jackson County residents also leave the county to purchase alcohol and eat at restaurants located just over the county-in Haywood, Macon, and Transylvania counties.

There are residents, however, who debate against alcohol sales by saying that the revenue generated would not be worth the funds it would take to increase law enforcement and deal with some of the social issues that come with alcohol and its users. If countywide alcohol comes to Jackson County, the county and the university should partner to implement an alcohol awareness campaign and collaborate on taxi and bus services.

In these tough economic times, it is worth considering countywide alcohol in Jackson County. If alcohol is to be legalized countywide, then it should be done in the most constructive and safe way possible.

(Michael Morris is a senior majoring in political science at WCU.)

Though many Jackson County residents shy away from publicly airing their views on alcohol, a recent poll shows that a comfortable majority of voters support alcohol sales countywide.

Whether you’re a college student in Cullowhee or socialite in Cashiers, stocking up on beer, wine and spirits requires a trip into town. But a WCU Public Policy Institute/Smoky Mountain News poll shows 56 percent of voters in Jackson County support alcohol sales everywhere in the county, not just in Sylva and Dillsboro, compared to 39 percent who would be opposed.

This particular question polarized respondents more strongly than any other issue on the poll, which was conducted by the Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, one of the Southeast’s most respected polling companies. Only 5 percent of those polled were undecided. Most questions saw undecided numbers of around 20 percent.

The poll questioned nearly 600 registered Jackson County voters.

“It’s fascinating that so few people are unsure,” said Christopher Cooper, director of the Public Policy Institute at WCU. “It seems like the kind of issue, if it’s ever on the ballot, that would lead to a high voter turnout.”

The alcohol question sticks out in a poll where most of the questions address trust in government. Clay County — one of the region’s smallest and most rural — recently voted to allow alcohol sales countywide, so it seems to be an emerging issue in Western North Carolina, Cooper said.

Though the area has traditionally been conservative on alcohol sales, a lingering recession may have created more favor for the potential boost in tax revenues that widespread alcohol sales promise.

Jackson County Commissioner Tom Massie, however, doesn’t see the issue as pressing.

“I don’t have a whole lot of people stopping me in the grocery store, on the streets or calling me saying ‘We need alcohol sales,’” said Massie. “It’s not one of those things on my radar screen.”

Massie doesn’t see a trend toward acceptance in Western North Carolina, either. Clay County seems to be more the exception than the rule in the region, according to Massie.

“That’s got a whole lot more to do with tradition and deep-seated beliefs held by the populace,” said Massie.

Though Jackson County Commissioner Mark Jones said there is actually more acceptance of alcohol in general, the primary motivating factor for legalizing alcohol sales countywide is most likely financial at this point.

“It is a revenue-generator at a time when sales are down and economies are tough,” said Jones.

WCU sees opportunity

According to Cooper, the biggest supporters of countywide sales were men, liberals, the more educated and the young.

Those who face a long drive to get a six-pack of beer or a few bottles of wine resoundingly said “yes” to countywide alcohol sales as well. About 68 percent of Cashiers residents clamored for change in Jackson County’s alcohol policy.

Meanwhile, Sylva residents just barely supported countywide sales, with only 50 percent voting “yes.”

Though WCU Chancellor John Bardo was reluctant to comment on the results of a poll conducted by the university, he did say legalizing alcohol sales in the county would have a tangible impact on the college.

The main effect, Bardo said, would be the potential for a viable commercial environment around the university. For now, Cullowhee is short on restaurants and grocery stores, and the total ban on alcohol sales may be to blame.

“People want to be able to go out to eat,” said Bardo. “It’s part of the quality of life they’re looking for.”

Alcohol sales countywide might lead to higher tax revenues for local government, a better business environment in Cullowhee as well as a positive impact on student enrollment.

“More services make the university more attractive,” said Bardo.

Jones agreed that Cullowhee businesses would make a handsome profit if students weren’t forced to drive to Sylva to buy their alcohol.

Moreover, Jones cited the trend of more retired individuals moving to college towns for its culture and activities. Allowing alcohol sales in Cullowhee would enhance the area’s attractiveness to these potential residents, Jones said.

But Massie said the few miles drive to Sylva most likely isn’t a major problem for students at Western. He recalled the days Jackson County was completely dry, when students would make beer runs all the way to Waynesville.

“College kids, if they want beer, and it’s legal for them to get it, they’re going to get it,” said Massie.


Cashiers highly supportive


Commissioner Jones, who manages High Hampton Inn in Cashiers, constantly encounters guests who query him on the nearest place to buy alcohol.

“For convenience, I send them to Highlands [in Macon County],” said Jones. “I’m guilty as charged.”

With Highlands a lot closer than Sylva, guests and residents alike often opt for the quicker trip when they’re thirsting for beer, wine and liquor. Jones said he cannot gauge how many thousands of dollars in potential tax revenue Jackson County loses each year in the process.

Some businesses in Cashiers are allowed to sell liquor, but only if they are established as a private club. Because these venues are required to purchase alcohol only from a Jackson County store, every restocking requires a drive down the mountain to Sylva or Dillsboro.

“It would save a lot of time, gas and trouble and expense to have an ABC store [here],” Jones said.

Though Jones supports countywide alcohol sales, he said he would rather see citizens petition to put the issue on the ballot than for the commissioners to get involved.

Massie, too, said he’d like to see a vote by the people, though he did not have a strong opinion on the matter.

“I’m not a teetotaler so it doesn’t bother me one way or another,” said Massie.

Still Massie, Jones and Commissioner Brian McMahan said they are all concerned that Jackson County ranks in the top 10 in North Carolina for alcohol-related accidents.

Though towns benefit economically from alcohol sales, there’s always a price to pay. “The trade-off is what are the social problems and liabilities that come with the sale of alcohol,” said Massie.

“Any time you have alcohol sales, you’re going to have that problem,” said Jones, adding that part of the tax revenues from alcohol sales do go toward law enforcement and education.

For McMahan, having widespread alcohol sales would probably not be worth the risks. McMahan said he would neither support legalizing alcohol sales in the county nor putting the issue on the ballot.

“The present system works, and there’s no need to change it,” said McMahan.


Sylva not swayed


Cooper has two theories to explain why Sylva voters were more reluctant than others to welcome countywide sales.

Of the alcohol tax that stays locally, Sylva shares half of the tax revenue from alcohol sales with the county and keeps the other half.

Allowing alcohol sales everywhere obviously means fewer people driving into Sylva or Dillsboro to buy their beer, leading to a direct decline in the town’s revenues. Sylva voters might have taken that into account when a higher number of them opposed countywide sales.

Cooper’s other theory is that alcohol is already widely available to Sylva residents.

“If you live in Sylva, what do you care if there’s alcohol in Cashiers?” said Cooper.

Massie, who represents Sylva on the county board, has another conjecture altogether. While elected officials and town employees are well-aware of the alcohol’s impact on revenues, that’s probably not driving your average Sylva resident to vote “no.”

“Sylva has a concentration of some of the biggest churches in the county,” said Massie. “That’s what I’m thinking is the reason.”

A new polling project developed by Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute and The Smoky Mountain News aims to get data that is the meat and bread of political scientists into the hands of the voting public.

“As academics, we’re pretty good at using rigorous methods to find things out,” said Chris Cooper, the institute’s director. “We’re not as good at showing our results.”

Cooper and his colleague, Gibbs Knotts, were interested in partnering with a media company to help disseminate the results of a poll measuring Jackson County political opinions and in turn instigate a larger conversation. They hatched the idea during the debate over tearing down the Dillsboro Dam. Because there were so many strong opinions on the issue, it was hard to get a feel for the sentiment of the majority.

“Most people like people who like them,” Cooper said. “Consequently they hang around people who think like them. The idea was to get a representative sample, so people could have some idea what others were really thinking about the issues.”

Smoky Mountain News publisher, Scott McLeod, saw the project as an opportunity to explore a partnership that could get to the crux of what is on readers’ minds.

“This is what good journalism and good newspapers are about,” McLeod said “We want to provide our readers with information about this region they can’t find anywhere else and present it in a way that’s interesting and useful. These polls and the subsequent stories we do will fulfill that mission.”

By combining accurate polling data and a platform for discussion, the first poll in the project is designed to create a baseline for Jackson County voters to discuss issues in the run-up to the November election. The project is called “Creating a Regional Policy Dialogue.”

“Anytime you can get people to discuss their views on government and on elected leaders, there’s a chance it will lead to better decision making and better leadership,” McLeod said. “Maybe a frank dialogue in the media about leadership and politics — one based on actual poll results from mountain voters — will contribute some solutions to some of our problems.”


The poll


Cooper contracted Public Policy Polling in Raleigh to conduct a random sample survey of Jackson County registered voters. The polling firm has had great results with its relatively low-cost phone survey method. SurveyUSA’s report cards rated Public Policy Polling the most accurate pollster for South Carolina, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana and Oregon during the 2008 election cycle.

The Jackson County poll, which was administered through a computerized phone call, asked 11 questions. In the end, just less than 600 respondents from all parts of the county offered their views on questions that asked what they thought of county and federal government; whether alcohol sales should be allowed outside incorporated areas; and how they felt about Congressman Heath Shuler, Governor Bev Perdue, the TEA Party and their local school system. It also measured political persuasions and collected demographic data.

Some of the results were surprising, like the fact that 95 percent of the respondents had an opinion about alcohol sales outside of Sylva and Dillsboro.

Cooper is quick to point out what the poll results — which canvassed registered voters only — can and can’t show.

“We can generalize about voters in Jackson County, but we can’t generalize about the people in a broad sense,” Cooper said.

Voters are, in general, more educated, more liberal and older than the public at large. They are also the people most likely to engage in the political process.

“The downside is we’re not getting the opinion of a whole group who by definition are disenfranchised and disconnected from the political process,” Cooper said.

Knotts estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of Jackson residents aren’t registered to vote.

The poll functioned with a plus or minus 4 percent margin of error. Cooper said he only recognized one peculiarity in the results: more than 61 percent said they graduated from college, a larger percentage than normal for the voting public.

“We over-represented educated people, but it’s not because we called more, it’s because more of them answered the call,” Cooper said.

In the end, the survey provides a starting point for the discussion of what’s really on the mind of Jackson County’s voters. Past public opinion surveys in Western North Carolina have focused on the region so broadly that voters in Asheville or Boone have been lumped in with those from Cashiers and Whittier.

The newest poll hopes to lend badly needed specificity the conversation.

“We were very interested to see how it came out to, and I feel really good about the results,” Cooper said.


Reading the mind of Jackson County

Gauging public opinion can be a tricky proposition, but for the elected officials who run Jackson County, it can also provide a glimpse at what matters to the people who elect them.

County Commissioner Tom Massie is up for reelection in November, and he likes the idea of the poll.

“I think we genuinely need to know where there are issues of concern in the public, and people ought to participate more in their government at all levels,” Massie said.

Vicki Greene, director of the Southwestern Planning Commission, has conducted numerous polls in Western North Carolina aimed at getting information on how people are employed. Greene, who grew up in Sylva and Dillsboro, said it could be hard to get good, accurate information from people through an automated phone call.

“My initial reaction is it’s a waste of time, because I’d be real surprised if you can get somebody to stay on the line for seven minutes,” Greene said.

The poll called voters on the list six times before moving on to another name. The short duration of the poll and its touch-key response system limits the complexity of the questions, but it greatly enhances the chance that people will respond.

Greene acknowledged how important good data can be in informing the larger policy discussions that shape the region.

“Assuming the questions are asked in a neutral format, the results of the polls should be beneficial to elected officials in their decision making capacities,” Greene said. “When you do a random survey, you are getting the voices of folks that don’t often participate in the discussion.”

For Knotts, who helped design the list of questions, the poll is a starting place.

“We see this as a way to put some numbers out there and use them as a starting point for a regional dialogue,” Knotts said.

At a moment in history when the economy is still mired and approval ratings of government at all levels are low around the country, the Jackson County poll is a chance to find out why voters are so frustrated and what can bring them back to the table.

For Cooper and Knotts, gathering data is the best place to start.

“The goal is to get the word out there, get out of the academic silo and communicate data and empirical results to the people who make decisions,” Cooper said.

For Smoky Mountain News publisher Scott McLeod, the polling partnership is the first step in creating a broader regional dialogue around issues.

“I can’t recall there ever having been scientific polling data from citizens in the counties west of Asheville,” McLeod said. “If we can continue this project for a year and do a half dozen or so polls, we’ll have some great information about our region that no one else has ever made the effort to gather.”

The US. Forest Service has banned alcohol use at 11 recreation sites in the Nantahala National Forest.

The sites include: Balsam Lake Recreation Area, Big Choga Dispersed Camping Sites, Bristol Fields Campground, Cheoah Point Swimming Area, Dry Falls Recreational Area, Fire’s Creek Hunter’s Camp, Fire’s Creek Picnic Area, Jackrabbit Recreation Area, Pine Ridge Dispersed Camping Sites, Wayah Bald Tower and Picnic Area, and Whiteside Mountain Recreation Area. All sites are within the Tusquitee, Cheoah and Nantahala Ranger Districts.

Several sites have been vandalized in association with alcohol consumption. Law enforcement officials have been called out for related incidents. Broken beer bottles in streams pose safety concerns for barefoot children and adults in adjoining creeks. Cheoah Point Swimming Area is the only public, free swimming on Lake Santeetlah and brings large numbers of visitors.

For more information on recreation sites across the forest and Ranger District contact information see the Carolina Connections publication online at www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc/recreation /connections/Connections2010.pdf or call 828.257.4258.

Buying alcohol will become a lot more convenient for residents in Haywood County.

For the first time in 43 years, a new ABC store will be constructed in Waynesville.

The second location will be situated behind Hardee’s on South Main Street and will be accessed off the entrance drive into Wal-Mart. It will likely capture traffic from all over the county, snagging a greater share of ABC profits distributed in Haywood County.

For now, the Waynesville ABC board is close to finalizing the deal but is still awaiting approval from the state ABC commission.

“Everything’s looking pretty good right now,” said Waynesville ABC Chairman Earl Clark. “It’s a real ideal spot.”

The property itself will cost between $450,000 and $500,000, according to Clark. The store, which will measure about 5,000 square feet, will cost approximately $500,000 to construct.

Waynesville’s original ABC store was built in 1967 and is far too small, Clark said. The ABC board has been anxious to build a new store for several years.

“Our store is just small,” said Clark. “We have no way of displaying and stocking like a lot of the larger stores do.”

With only two alcohol shipments each month from Raleigh and little storage space, it’s been tough for the store to replenish stock.

The convenience of neighboring Wal-Mart might increase revenues for the ABC board, but the Town of Waynesville and Haywood County might not see a payoff any time soon.

Town Manager Lee Galloway said the additional expenses of debt payment, personnel and utilities will scoop up much of the new revenue generated by the store for years to come.

“I do think because of the cost of the store and the personnel involved, the town’s revenues are going down, not up,” said Galloway.

Local governments will only realize the full benefit of the new store when it is paid off.

The town estimates that it’ll receive $94,000 from ABC profits this year. Last year, the town got $112,000, which was spent on law enforcement and alcohol education.

Alternatively, the Town of Maggie Valley has received no money from ABC’s profits in the last few years. A second ABC store was built on Dellwood Road there in 2009.

“We’ve been allowing them to keep the excess to help pay for the second store,” said Tim Barth, town manager for Maggie Valley.

The town annexed a satellite tract a mile outside town limits to get a parcel close to Waynesville, grabbing customers who’d usually travel to Waynesville’s ABC store.

The ABC board in Maggie set aside money years in advance to buy inventory for the new store and save up for the debt payments.

Maggie’s second store was successful in luring customers away from Waynesville’s ABC store, due to its strategic geographic location that’s closer to Waynesville than Maggie. Sales rose for the Maggie Valley ABC board in 2008-2009, but not enough to save the board from landing in the red.

According to annual reports from the town of Maggie Valley, the ABC board operated at a loss of $5,600 in the ’08-’09 year. In comparison, the board’s income from operations in the 2007-2008 fiscal year was a solid $72,479.

Revenues at both the Maggie Valley and Waynesville ABC stores will likely be adversely affected by alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. Liquor sales at the casino started in late 2009.


Is privatization on the way?

Talks of privatizing liquor sales in North Carolina may hinder Waynesville’s plans for a second Alcoholic Beverage Control store.

The governor has appointed a committee to study reform of the ABC system, including the possibility of privatizing alcohol sales.

Calls for reform were sounded after it was discovered that two ABC staffers in New Hanover County were being paid a combined $350,000 annually. Meanwhile, liquor industry representatives had treated Mecklenburg County ABC board staffers to multiple lavish meals, with one tab totaling $12,700.

Earl Clark, chairman of the Waynesville ABC board, said his board would be hesitant to build a new store if the state decides to follow through with privatization and end the monopoly of ABC boards.

“There’s no doubt that it would affect us because we don’t want to do something that we’d lose money or the town would lose money,” said Clark.

Clark said though the system could use reform, privatizing the system would prove harmful for local governments that get a cut of the profits.

“I think that it would hurt the town and the county on their distribution,” said Clark

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino may soon serve alcohol on the gaming floor, after receiving an unofficial go-ahead from a state attorney.

The casino has already been offering customers beer, wine and mixed drinks at restaurants and lounges in its adjacent hotel. Bringing alcohol to the floor, though, will be the bigger moneymaker for the casino.

Harrah’s had prohibited players from downing alcoholic drinks on the gaming floor due to uncertainty about a state law that bans gambling at businesses that serve alcohol.

“We had to be clear on the law,” said Bob Blankenship, chairman of the tribe’s Alcoholic Beverage Control commission.

But according to John Aldridge, special deputy attorney general, Harrah’s would not violate any law by serving alcohol on the casino floor.

In a letter to the state ABC commission, Aldridge wrote that the state law only impacts businesses that allow illegal gambling.

Since an agreement with both the state and federal government allows gambling at Harrah’s in Cherokee, the law would not be applicable.

According to Blankenship, all that’s left in the process is the tribal council’s formal approval. Tribe members approved the sale of alcohol on casino premises, but nowhere else in Cherokee, over the summer.

It will take about a week for alcohol to hit the casino floor after the tribal council passes the measure, Blankenship said.

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