Business owners, officials say alcohol will bring growth to area
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Getting the wet-dry question on the Nov. 5 ballot was the result of hard work and more than a year of planning, not closed-door meetings or back-room shenanigans, according to a local business owner who's working to legalize alcohol sales in Hartselle.
"We've worked hard for more than a year," said Lora Ramey, who, along with her husband, Dennis, own Ramey's Shell on Highway 31 in Hartselle. "There was nothing illegal going on and I'm offended by that."
Last week, Families for a Safe Hartselle leader Jeff Johnson said he thought efforts to legalize liquor sales were orchestrated by "a handful of city council members and a handful of business owners (who) got in a backroom and decided they needed alcohol sales in Hartselle." Johnson has since sent a letter to the Enquirer "apologizing for any misinterpretation" of that statement.
Ramey said she and her husband, along with several other area businesses, began working to collect signatures to have the alcohol question put on the ballot last year.
"There was nothing done in a backroom," Ramey said.
Ramey and several other business owners have been working in recent weeks to counter the barrage of "vote no" signs and messages that have been disseminated throughout the town. "Vote no" signs and banners are seen in front of most churches and many yards and church marquees urge people to vote against alcohol sales.
Ramey said she has bought 200 "vote yes" signs, but, like their "vote no" counterparts, they don't last long.
"As soon as we put them out, they disappear," she said.
City Councilman Frank Jones is working with the Rameys to try and get alcohol sales legalized in Hartselle. Jones said alcohol sales – and the money they will generate – are vital to the city's future growth.
"If Hartselle does not come up with another form of revenue, Hartselle cannot survive," Jones said. "You cannot stay a bedroom community forever. If Hartselle does not do something, it will end up a part of Decatur or a part of Priceville."
Jones said in addition to the sales tax revenue that would be created by alcohol sales, vendors are also required to pay the city $1.17 per case of beer delivered to area merchants.
"That is money generated before a can is even sold. That also impacts the price of selling beer and allows merchants to charge sales tax on all of that," Jones said. "Even more important than the sales tax is that is will open up the door to other businesses. Businesses, like restaurants and hotels, that would never look at Hartselle before suddenly will."
Those businesses won't include lounges or nightclubs, though. Jones said the latest draft of the alcohol ordinance precludes liquor from being sold where music, entertainment or gaming machines are present.
The current draft of the ordinance requires alcohol sales to be kept 500 feet from churches or schools. There are several exceptions, though, including if the business and church or school face different streets or if the establishment wanting to sell alcohol is a grocery store.
Jones said he, too, take exception to the notion that alcohol vote was put on the ballot in a back-handed manner.
"I think there is an organized effort of a group of people outside of Hartselle who are trying to influence people here and cause guilt and panic within the city," Jones said. "I don't think they have the love of Hartselle or the love of the Lord in mind."