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Sylva aldermen put mixed drinks vote on May ballot

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Sylva voters will have another go at passing liquor by the drink in this May’s primary elections.

Since 1994, Sylva has held two votes, both rejecting liquor by the drink sales. The margin of defeat decreased from 163-91 in 1994 to 220 to 209 in 2001 — numbers supporters say are indicative of changing tides and a possible groundswell of support that might carry the vote over this time.

Town board members approved putting the referendum on the ballot at their Feb. 2 meeting. Board member Danny Allen, who would like to see additional revenues generated for the town, introduced the measure.

In towns where liquor by the drink is allowed, state law requires that it be purchased from the local ABC store. The Alcoholic Beverage Commission splits profits garnered from those sales with the county and towns. Increased sales would mean increased revenue for the town.

Sylva uses the money generated by alcohol sales for recreation. A majority of those funds are given to the county in exchange for running the pool located next to town hall.

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Putting the measure on the May 2 primary election ballot versus the general election ballot will save the town money.

“The reason we put it on that is one, because we could, and two, because there is very little additional cost associated with putting it on that ballot,” said Town Manager Jay Denton.

The cost should not exceed $1,000, Denton said.

Having the liquor-by-the-drink vote be part of a primary election — designed to weed out candidates of the same political party so there is only one representative from each party for any given seat in November’s general election — might prompt a lower turnout, as most primary elections generally see fewer voters than in a general election. However, this primary election is hotly contested with multiple Democrats running for four out of five county commissioner’s seats.

“The good thing about having it in this primary is this is a primary with a lot of local elections,” Denton said.

Sylva residents most likely will be drawn to the polls by having more than one electoral race to vote on and to cast their ballots on liquor-by-the-drink sales.

“Any time you get people to vote it’s a good thing,” Denton said.

Some local restaurant owners have expressed reservations about the sales, as instituting liquor by the drink would most likely result in physical changes to restaurant bars.

“We’d have to look at the way our restaurant is configured as to whether we could serve or not,” said Tim Hall, owner of Bogarts.

The restaurant’s food pick up windows are located behind the bar. State law requires that those who serve liquor be age 21 or over. Hall said he was unsure about whether state law would allow servers who are under 21 to walk behind the bar to pick up food. Currently the bar sells beer and wine, which employees only need be 18 to serve.

Also, if liquor by the drink did pass, Hall said he hadn’t decided whether the restaurant, a hot spot for families and college students, would immediately begin serving or not.

Across the street at O’Malley’s, owner Lynn Stanberry said that she hadn’t taken a position one way or the other regarding liquor sales. Without liquor, the restaurant still will continue to offer beer and wine.

“If it passes, we’re going to have it,” Stanberry said.

Passage of liquor-by-the-drink sales would give Sylva a leg-up over neighboring Dillsboro, which passed beer and wine sales this past November. Previously diners looking for a drink had to head outside Dillsboro’s limits to Sylva. Now the two towns are on equal playing ground.

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