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Wednesday, 17 August 2011 13:19

Jackson County alcohol vote likely in May

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Jackson County commissioners are leaning toward the May primary for putting alcohol on the ballot rather than waiting until the general election next November.

County Attorney Jay Coward briefed Jackson County commissioners this week on the nuts and bolts of a referendum, one that will decide whether the sale of alcoholic beverages is legal throughout the county. If it passes, Jackson would be one of only three counties in WNC with countywide alcohol sales. Henderson County is also holding a referendum on countywide alcohol in May as well.

Four of the five commissioners told The Smoky Mountain News three weeks ago of their intent to hold a countywide alcohol vote, but had yet to discuss the issue in public at a commissioners meeting until this week.

Commissioners will eventually have to formally vote to put the issue on the ballot, directing the Jackson County Board of Elections to stage the election in conjunction with the May primary. Coward indicated that the necessary timeframe doesn’t require the board’s commitment for some time to come, until about February. At that point, commissioners must sort out which — or all — of various options they will allow voters to consider. Beer and wine only? Only in restaurants or to-go from gas stations and grocery stores, too? What about mixed drinks, or a liquor store?

Commissioner Chairman Jack Debnam has indicated he’s interested in seeing voters decide on countywide beer and wine sales, plus decide on whether to open an ABC store in Cashiers. The only ABC store now in Jackson County is located in Sylva.

Asked about the genesis of a possible alcohol referendum, Debnam emphasized that “personally, I don’t care … I don’t drink.” But, Debnam said he strongly believes that people should be given a choice.

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