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.)