Booze News
Most council candidates noncommittal on LBTD

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  Less than 10 days remain before Americans select a president and Elizabethtonians select whether Long Island ice tea could legally join sweetened ice tea on drink menus at current or future town eateries.
  A referendum asking Elizabethton voters whether liquor by the drink service in restaurants should be legalized is perhaps the biggest item in the city election. The Carter County Election Commission reported that of the 6,007 registered voters in the city over 1,650 people - roughly 27 percent -- had cast a ballot during the early voting period through Friday afternoon.
  Elizabethton's administrative government or the City Council play no part in placing the measure on the ballot. The decision lies in the democratic process of popular vote by citizens.
  Sitting council members Janie McKinney, Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley, Pat "Red" Bowers, and Bill Carter have also remained mum when asked in recent months about their personal opinions of the liquor referendum. The council members have said the decision lay strictly with city voters.
  The majority of candidates running for three at large seats to Elizabethton City Council were noncommittal on their personal views of the referendum.
  Candidates Tom Whitehead, incumbent Nancy Alsup, Charles LaPorte, and Curt Alexander deferred saying whether they were for or against passage of the referendum.
  Council candidates Robert L. Gobble and incumbent Richard Sammons, however, have stated their opposition to the referendum.
  Alsup said a petition of registered voters certified by the county Election Commission placing the question on the ballot for voters with no council input.
  "The City Council has no role or any involvement in the liquor referendum before the citizens of Elizabethton," she said.
  Sammons, a certified public accountant and president of Sammons Restaurants Inc., said restaurants owners he worked with emphasized their location to an area was based on demographics not the legality of liquor by the drink service.
  "It is demographics," Sammons said. "Restaurants sell food."
  Gobble, who is a county constable representing the 8th District, said his faith and experience in law enforcement were the factors in his opposition to the referendum passing.
  "I am against it," Gobble said. "I'd rather lose. I don't believe in drinking."
  However, most sitting council members and council candidates noted an undeniable fact about liquor by the drink - surrounding counties where liquor is available reap major tax dollars off Elizabethton and Carter County citizens. On Friday and Saturday nights, vehicles with Carter County license plates take up a sizable amount of parking spaces at Johnson City restaurants that happen to hold a liquor license.
  Johnson City residents voted to approve the sale of mixed drinks at establishments when the measure was put to a citywide referendum in 1980. The referendum was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which effectively ratified the referendum in favor of Johnson City in 1982.
  In its projected 2005 fiscal year budget, the city of Johnson City estimated revenues generated from the local liquor tax would earn $400,000 while local taxes generated from the sale of beer were set at $1.75 million. Intergovernmental revenues through the state's mixed drink tax to the city were estimated at $380,000.
  The Elizabethton-Carter County Economic Development Commission endorsed a liquor-by-the-drink referendum as part of its economic development plan last year.
  The state of Tennessee Department of Revenue enforces a tax of 15 percent on sales of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises (mixed drink and wine sales). The tax is distributed 50 percent to the state (earmarked for education) and 50 percent to the local municipal government where the sale was made.
  A municipal government can levy a privilege tax separate from any other taxing authority on establishments selling mixed drinks within its corporate limits according to state law.