Drink up 'Betsy

By Lesley Hughes
star staff

  That's the spirit! Elizabethton is all wet. Fifty-nine percent of voters punched their ballot for the legal sale of liquor-by-the-drink during Tuesday's election. Unofficial results reveal 2,784 people voted for the referendum, while 1,956 voted against it.
  Perhaps the most controversial item on the ballot, the liquor-by-the-drink referendum will allow legalized consumption on the premises of a licensed location. Local supporters of the referendum cited the need for an expanded tax base and economic development from restaurants that serve liquor-by-the-drink.
  Colin Landstreet supported the option and provided legal assistance to a group of citizens heading up the petition process. "I am very pleased. This just allows restaurants to move into the area if they wish. Regardless of the demographics of an area, that (the lack of liquor-by-the-drink) is an absolute bar to them moving in," Landstreet said.
  "I think it is a very positive move for Elizabethton and Carter County. It is one element of many that attracts businesses to move into a community... although it is not going to happen over night," he added.
  Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl said voters have "clearly spoken. Regardless of your opinion on the subject, the referendum was approved by the people. If nothing else, it does present an avenue. If the argument is liquor-by-the-drink will encourage economic development in the city, now the opportunity is there."
  The referendum was placed on the ballot thanks to a petition garnering 550 names requesting the choice for liquor-by-the-drink.
  The Elizabethton-Carter County Economic Development Commission endorsed the vote for liquor-by-the-drink citing possible additional revenue through a liquor tax and the opportunity to recruit more restaurants into the city of Elizabethton.
  Northeast Tennessee cities of Bristol, Greeneville, Kingsport, and Johnson City as well as the town of Jonesborough permit liquor-by-the-drink within their corporate limits. Elizabethton is the largest city in the 8-county region where on-premises sales of mixed drinks were prohibited.
  The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission issues licenses to restaurants to sell mixed drinks as well as licensing the restaurant employees who serve alcoholic beverages. If sales for consumption on the premises are approved through referendum in the county or municipality, qualified entities may apply to the commission for a permit to sell wine and spirits.
  The state collects a tax of 15 percent on the gross sales of all alcoholic beverages and wine for consumption on the premises for establishments holding a license to serve mixed drinks. 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.
  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 estimates revenues of $400,000 to be earned through the local liquor tax while local taxes generated from the sale of beer were set at $1.75 million.