The talk of county officials for years, a referendum on alcohol sales in Sampson County will likely not be on the ballot until at least May 2014, due to sizable costs if the measure does not coincide with a countywide election.
A potential timeline in connection with a county referendum to allow beer and wine sales in Sampson was laid out by county attorney Annette Chancy Starling at the Board of Commissioners meeting earlier this week.
At the board’s planning session in February, members briefly discussed the process for a referendum on alcohol sales to be considered in Sampson. Board chairman Billy Lockamy requested Starling provide information to the board on the matter, including a timeline that would allow for the least cost.
“It has been suggested that this matter be held in conjunction with another election in order to avoid the cost of holding an election on alcohol sales alone,” Starling stated.
She said the ideal least-cost situation would not arise for almost two more years.
The next countywide election will be held in May 2014, at which time elections will be held for sheriff, county commissioners and Clerk of Court. The next municipal election would be in November 2013, however Starling noted there would be substantial additional cost in holding a countywide referendum in connection with the municipal election date.
“The thought would be that it would save the county funds to hold this along with another election,” said Starling. “May 2014, it would be next to no cost to hold the election that year. There would be more cost to hold it in November 2013, because you’d have to open up additional precincts outside the municipalities.”
Alcohol sales are not currently permitted in unincorporated areas of the county, and a countywide referendum is required in order for beer and wine sales to be allowed. Taking a ban off alcohol sales could keep revenue within Sampson County that has been going outside the county for years, officials said, but there are proponents on the other side who do not want to see alcohol sales and its availability expanded.
If it chooses to seek a referendum and put it to the vote of the general populous, the Board of Commissioners would have to provide the Board of Elections with a written request to place the matter on the ballot, Starling said. That request would have to be received no earlier than 120 days, and no later than 60 days, before the desired election date. The referendum on alcohol sales may not be held at the same time as a Presidential election.
“So, we’re kind of narrowed to the time we can have it,” said commissioner Jefferson Strickland.
Additionally, a request or petition for a malt beverage election has to specify which of the four propositions in the N.C. General Statute are to be voted upon. The four positions that may be voted on, for or against, are: permitting the “on-premises” and “off-premises” sale of malt beverages; “on-premises” only; “off-premises” only; or “on-premises” sale of malt beverages by Class A hotels, motels and restaurants only and “off-premises” sale by other permittees.
A request of petition for an unfortified wine election must state which of the three propositions in General Statute are to be voted upon. Those three propositions that may be voted on are to permit “on-premises” and “off-premises” sale of unfortified wine, or either of those two.
More than one kind of alcoholic beverage election may be included in a single request or petition, Starling noted.
“So you can have all these questions on the ballot at one time,” said Starling, “or you can pick and choose which ones you want to allow the referendum on. It would be countywide, so everyone in the county would vote.”
Asked by board members about the revenue generation a majority “for” vote could produce, finance officer David Clack said the county has not had any experience or history regarding collecting revenues through beer and wine, or unfortified wine, sales, however estimated figures could be gathered leading up to a decision by the board.
Starling said she and county staff would remind the board prior to each election so members can consider the referendum on those ballots. Outside May 2014 or a similar countywide election further in the future, however, the county would be dealing with a ballpark cost of $30,000 to hold the countywide referendum, said board chairman Billy Lockamy, citing previous figures presented to the board.
Clack agreed, noting prior discussions about having a referendum at multiple planning sessions. Talk of a possible issue on the ballot is not new, and the cost would be high if not held in conjunction with an existing countywide election.
“To open up all the precincts and staff them is generally pretty expensive,” said Clack. “Even if we held it in conjunction with municipal elections, we’re talking about opening almost two-thirds more precincts within the county to actually have this. It would be very expensive to have this outside a countywide election.”
Commissioners said there have been inquiries about county alcohol sales in the past, so there is some interest on the matter to at least be considered.
“There have been requests to put it on (the ballot),” commissioner Jarvis McLamb said.
“I know in the lower part of the county, and of course, in the northern part of the county, some of the revenue did cross county lines, and the cities and county are losing on account of it,” Lockamy said.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.