GARLAND — There will be beer and wine sales allowed on Sundays, approved by the Garland Board of Commissioners following a lengthy public hearing in which residents came out on both sides of the issue — many implored alcohol sales would soil the holiness of the Sabbath day, while others stated the importance of tax revenue and the need to separate church and state in making decisions crucial to the town.
In recent months, the town board discussed a possible referendum to allow beer and unfortified wine sales in town on Sunday. Members found last month that a referendum was not needed, but rather a motion to repeal the previous ordinance banning Sunday sales of beer and unfortified wine could be made. Instead of going forward with the vote at that time, the board voted to hold a public hearing to gauge public opinion, to be held at Tuesday’s regular meeting.
What the board heard was outspoken residents both for and against.
Rogers Clark, president of Sampson-Bladen Oil Company, is currently constructing a state-of-the-art Han-Dee Hugo’s and Subway in the heart of Garland. He did not speak in favor of alcohol, but rather what its sale could do for the town.
“I am quite certain in my heart that the world would be better off if there were no alcohol in it. It’s the charge of the Council to look after its people and after their business,” said Clark. “Alcohol is being sold, and it’s being sold on Sunday afternoons, but not in Garland. That means that you’re exporting your dollars and your customers out of Garland to Elizabethtown or Roseboro or Clinton to purchase their alcohol products on Sunday afternoon.
“I think it’s unfair to the citizens of Garland, and to the town as far as income taxes, for Garland to be sitting in the hub of that and not to be wet,” Clark continued. “I think it should be voted in.”
Marty Tew, pastor of Garland Pentecostal Freewill Baptist Church, said he spoke on behalf of himself and many of his parishioners who were present at the meeting as standing “definitely” against the sale of alcohol beverages on Sunday.
“Though every day is the Lord’s day, we recognize Sunday as a special day when Christians gather together and worship,” said Tew. “The argument has been made in favor of allowing alcohol on Sunday because of revenue. I think that is backwards thinking. The way to prosperity, and the way to blessing, is to put God first and that goes for our town.”
Tew said in recent years, gambling establishments have been allowed to come in to the town. Sunday alcohol sales would only compound the situation and cut into the holiness of the Sabbath day.
“I think to allow alcoholic beverage sales on Sunday would be another step in the wrong direction of a downward moral slide,” Tew said. “The argument has been made that people going to the lake or wherever they’re going on Sunday may stop to buy their beer and they’re upset. I say let it be known that there is one place in Sampson County that doesn’t go the way of the rest of the world and still honors the Lord’s day.”
Gene Hart said he was similarly opposed to Sunday sales, noting if he had his choice there would be no alcohol. He commented about his own physical and sexual abuse when he was a child, the result of an alcoholic relative.
“I realize that every person who consumes alcohol is not necessarily going to be a molester or one who does an injustice to children,” said Hart. “I believe that we need to honor the Sabbath. I heard someone say we need the tax revenue. I hope we’re not going looking for that tax revenue at the expense of some younger people who we need to be setting an example for.”
Still others, including Frances Rich and Mary Anne Johnson, preached the importance of keeping Sunday sacred and not letting Sunday alcohol sales hamper that.
“Whether or not to sell beer and wine on Sunday has been an issue in the past, and here we are again,” said Johnson. “First, I think it’s important to remember that Sunday is the Sabbath and allowing the sale of beer and wine on Sunday makes it one step closer to being like any other day. For anyone who wants to drink on Sunday, let them plan ahead. As far as any nice restaurants coming to our town, there are fine restaurants out there that do not focus on alcoholic beverages or beer and wine on Sundays. Just because other towns and areas are doing it, doesn’t justify that it’s the right thing to do.”
‘Make a stand f
or what is right’
N.C. General Statute authorizes municipalities to adopt and enforce ordinances prohibiting the retail sales of malt beverages, unfortified wine and fortified wine on Sundays. The town of Garland previously adopted a resolution in 1991 making beer and wine retail sales unlawful in the town from 1 p.m Sunday to 7 a.m. the following Monday. Such sales have long been offered Monday through Saturday. The current code of ordinances was adopted in 2005 with that resolution upheld.
The issue was brought up again in recent months as a possible means of generating revenue with Garland in dire financial straits. Some said that should not be the key factor in the board’s decision.
“As for those who are not in favor of beer and wine on Sunday does not by any means emphasize that we do not want to see our town grow,” Johnson said. “My challenge to you is to make a stand for what is right and keep beer and wine from being allowed on Sunday. Please do not let the almighty dollar rule your decision. Revenue and rewards will come in other opportune ways.”
Another woman asked how the town could expect God to bless Garland if the town did not recognize Sunday as a holy day. Having Sundays without alcohol sales would show those who traveled through that Garland was a “God-fearing and believing town.”
“You cannot be on both sides of the fence,” she said. “Either you’re for God or against him, which are you? Let’s do what’s right and vote it out.”
Randolph Smith implored the town board to make the right decision, one that did not rely on religious beliefs but took into account the best interests of Garland as a whole.
“I’ve heard a lot about Scripture and a lot about church, more about that than I have about beer sales,” said Smith. “I fail to connect the dots between the two. I’m a firm believer in separation of church and state on any level. I think that the board’s sole purpose should be to promote the economic development of the town of Garland. Mr. Clark is making a huge investment down here and I think it would be unfair to him and his company to hold us back in the 20th century based on somebody’s personal religious beliefs. That being said, I’m fine with religion but I don’t think it should run our board or any branch of our government on any level.”
Tim Register said there is probably no issue through the years that has divided religious groups more than how they stand on alcohol.
“It would be presumptive of me for me to stand before you, even though I’m a Baptist minister and don’t speak for my church, to tell you that I know the truth for you,” said Register. “Just because I may believe that the consumption of alcohol or the sale of alcohol is wrong, that does not mean it’s wrong for my Episcopalian Christian brother or my Christian Catholic brother or any other religious denomination that does not hold my same view.”
The issue is about religious freedom, said Register. He said it would be a shame for a town that has a marker dedicated to the veterans and soldiers to deny those soldiers the right to purchase alcohol if they wanted.
Register recalled his brother, who died as a direct result of alcohol. That same brother spent more than two years in Vietnam, where he fought for the rights of citizens of this country “so they would not have others’ beliefs forced down their throat,” he said. Register chided those who would cry out for less government in the same breath as they would urge government intervention.
“These same ones that will cry out in November ‘we don’t want the government to be involved in our lives, we need less government,’ yet will stand here tonight and say to you as the government ‘do our job for us so we won’t have to worry about converting the folks over at our church,’” said Register. “It is time that we as the church stop passing off our responsibility to convince our members and members of our community of what is right and wrong, and expect the government to make laws to set morality. We need to let the church do their job and let the government do their job. The truth of the matter is if we do our job as a church, we won’t have to worry about beer and wine sales on Sunday because there won’t be anybody to buy it.”
The town’s decision
Mayor Winifred Murphy thanked those in the packed American Legion Post 502 building for taking an interest and participating in the meeting.
“We certainly value your comments,” said Murphy. “Decisions have to be made based on what’s in the best interests of the town of Garland.”
Murphy did offer some numbers as to the finances of the town and its economic status, including Garland’s tax collection rate and fund balance as compared to the town’s population group (towns around 625) and how it stacks up against the statewide average.
In 2011, Garland’s tax collection rate was 94.25 percent, up slightly over the population group but down from the statewide 97.42 percent statewide. Garland’s fund balance available in 2007, it was close to 33 percent of expenditures. Just four years later, in 2011, it was just half that.
“Garland is very, very low,” said Murphy. “The state average is 39.53 percent. Other towns our size have a fund balance of 113.42 percent. The town of Garland has 17.64 percent. We don’t have any money. If we have any kind of major emergencies, there is nothing. Everything is aging. This is something that we’ve been looking at for the past few months.”
Murphy said, while 2012’s fund balance had not been released yet, she said she seriously felt the figure would fall even more despite the town board’s best efforts to get Garland back on track. The mayor said she was not trying to sway the board one way or another.
“I just want you to look at all the facts,” she said. “In order to make an informed decision, you have to listen to your public, you have to look at everything. You can’t just see one side and not look at the other.”
Commissioner Ralph Smith made a motion to adopt the ordinance repealing the prior resolution and allow the lawful retail sale of malt beverages and unfortified wine from 12 noon Sunday to 2 a.m. the following Monday. Commissioner Haywood Johnson seconded. It needed two-thirds majority to pass on the first reading, which it received.
Commissioners Mike Toler and Matthew Register also voted to allow Sunday alcohol sales, with Denise Toler dissenting.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.