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Chamber asks for county alcohol vote
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The Covington-Newton Chamber of Commerce once again asked the Newton County Board of Commissioners to put the alcohol by the drink question to a public vote.

The chamber's board of directors and the economic development roundtable both signed a letter of support in favor of a holding a public referendum in November 2012 on whether to allow alcohol by the drink in the county.

However, as previously discussed by the county, Chamber President Hunter Hall said chamber officials want the county to develop an ordinance limiting the creation of bars and specifying that alcohol by the drink sales only be allowed in specified areas, namely current or future retail corridors.

"The chamber of commerce has been in support of allowing the citizens of Newton County to vote on a referendum that would allow permitted institution to sell alcohol by the drink since the year 2000," the letter of support states. "Our position has not changed on this issue for the past 11 years. We believe that the passage of this ordinance is essential to the recruitment of quality local and national restaurants and subsequent retail development associated with these restaurants."
Hall said Thursday that the chamber is not pursuing the sale of alcohol on Sunday in the county and noted that the chamber was sensitive of the opinions of local churches.

"We don't want establishments just strewn about the county. We want them to be allowed in key, designated areas, that will be easy to monitor," Hall said. "Also from the faith-based perspective, we want to help them identify where these places will and won't be."

The board of commissioners last voted down having a public referendum in August 2010, with commissioners Mort Ewing, J.C. Henderson and Earnest Simmons opposing.

Simmons was replaced in 2010 with Commissioner Lanier Sims, who has said publicly he would support a referendum. Commissioners Tim Fleming and Nancy Schulz previously voted in favor of a referendum.

Hall said there was talk of holding the vote during the July primary, but the chamber supports holding the referendum during the November General Election when voter turnout is expected to be higher.

He said the chamber supports alcohol by the drink solely because it believes many chain restaurants will not locate in Newton County if they can't sell alcohol. Without restaurants, other retail development will not follow.

Retail, or package, sales of beer and wine are currently allowed in the county.

According to a previous presentation, Newton County loses $742.4 million of retail sales per year to surrounding counties, part of which is likely related to a lack of medium to higher-end restaurants in the county. The presentation said that Newton County was only capturing about 80 percent of the food and drinking revenue it should be.

Commissioner Ewing said much is made of how much the county loses in retail sales, but he asked the chamber to provide him with the amount of money spent in Newton County by non residents. He said he sees many cars from Butts, Jasper and Walton counties at local shopping centers.

Alcohol by the drink was last brought to a public vote in the 1998 General Election. More than 11,000 voters turned out that year, and 53 percent of them voted against the referendum, according to a previous article in The Covington News. Officials in support of another referendum believe the results will be quite different 14 years later.