12/24/2012 6:00:00 AM Alcohol proponents push for vote
By DEBBIE BURT MYERS
Just over 300 names are needed on a liquor petition being circulated in the city before it is presented to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen after the first of the year, proponents said.
"This petition is not a petition to legalize alcohol in Philadelphia," said Jeremy Chalmers, spokesperson for Philadelphia For a Vote. "It is only a petition to allow the citizens of Philadelphia the right to vote on the issue. This petition is neither for alcohol nor against alcohol."
Earlier this year, the U. S. Department of Justice granted pre-clearance on a bill that would allow cities like Philadelphia with populations of at least 5,000 to call for a vote on legalizing liquor sales.
Recently, voters in Corinth overwhelmingly approved the sale of liquor and wine in the first election under the new state law.
The Mayor and Board of Aldermen can order an election upon the presentation of a petition containing at least 20 percent of the duly qualified voters asking that city residents be allowed to vote for or against the sale of liquor within the city limits.
Thirty days' notice must be given to qualified electors of the proposed election.
If voters approve the sale of liquor here, it would be up to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to set guidelines.
The board could restrict the sale to restaurants and/or allow it to be sold in package stores.
"I do not believe that coming out from under the archaic dry laws will cause an increase in alcohol consumption in Philadelphia," Chalmers said.
"According to the state Department of Revenue, when a county turns wet it doesn't necessarily mean Mississippi as a whole sees an increase in revenue. It is more about spreading the wealth between municipalities."
Petitions are available at City Hall, Harold's on Holland Avenue and Kademi on Center Avenue as well as on the website at www.philadelphiaforavote.com, Chalmers said.
There is also a Facebook page with the same name.
Under Senate Bill 2497, other residents of the county would not have a vote.
The old law required liquor votes to be countywide even though liquor can be sold only within municipal boundaries.
Since the new law passed, similar petitions are being circulated in other Mississippi cities such as Ripley.
Josh Behm, spokesman for Ripley For A Vote, said his group wants to give citizens the opportunity to vote on the issue of alcohol within Ripley's city limits. He said the issue is more about voter choice than alcohol.
Philadelphia Mayor James A. Young expects the issue will come up for a vote after the first of the year.
Ward 1 Alderman Joe Tullos asked the Mayor and Board of Aldermen earlier this month to consider setting up an account at a Philadelphia bank to allow proponents of the alcohol issue to contribute money to fund a special election.
He estimated that it would cost about $8,000 to hold a special election in the city.
"People subject to profit from the alcohol sales can help us pay for the election," Tullos said earlier. "Some people don't want their tax dollars used for a special election."
Tullos said the sale of wine and liquor would attract new business to the city and help existing ones in the city.
Since the governor signed the legislation into law on July 1, Young said corporate officials from national chain restaurants have looked at Philadelphia more seriously.
He said the city would not move to the next level of business growth, if the alcohol referendum does not pass.
The effort to bring new retail opportunities, particularly restaurants, to Philadelphia stemmed from a charrette (pronounced shuh-ret) held here in early 2010.
The study showed that Philadelphia is underserved by sit-down restaurants and grocery stores.
An estimated $12.3 million in sit-down restaurant business leaves Philadelphia annually, while about $41 million in grocery shopping is apparently being done elsewhere, the study revealed.