By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – When Yalobusha voters go to the polls for the special election on December 11, they will face a simple “for” or “against” question on the sale of beer and light wine in the county. But, if the proposition passes, local officials will be faced with the not so simple task of dealing with what happens next.
One of the first things the county is required to do is send a certified copy of the election results to the State Tax Commission in Jackson. Only then can the state issue permits to sellers and distributors of beer and light wine, said Kathy Waterbury, director of communication for the State Tax Commission.
“If the election is on Tuesday, they want to sell beer on Wednesday morning. They can’t do that,” Waterbury said, noting that the process will take about 30 days before sales can begin.
One of the next steps for local government is to adopt ordinances to control distribution and sales. How the local laws are written is key to their success, according to Winona attorney George Weaver.
Weaver was Chancery Clerk of Montgomery County in 1982 when voters there legalized the sale of both liquor and beer. Weaver emphasized that “(Beer) can be controlled if the powers that be will control it through the ordinances.”
State law allows local governments to designate territory surrounding churches and schools in which beer sales are not allowed.
For example, in Montgomery county beer can’t be sold or stored within 400 feet of any church, school, kindergarten or funeral home except for storage in the privacy of one’s home. The minimum distance in areas zoned business or commercial is 100 feet.
The city of Oxford uses basically the same wording in their ordinance, which was adopted in July of this year, but adds that the minimum distance requirement in business, commercial or industrial areas shall not be less than 100 feet, except where separated by an intervening street.
Oxford officials measure the distances along a straight line between the nearest points of the building in which such light wine and beer is sold or stored and the building housing such church, school, kindergarten or funeral home.
Both Montgomery County and the city of Oxford prohibit signs and billboards which advertise the sale of beer and light wine. Montgomery County officials go one step further and ban in-store displays that are visible from the outside.
State law prohibits the sale or consumption of beer or light wine on licensed premises between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m. Additionally, Montgomery County adds Sunday, Election Day, and Christmas Day. The city of Oxford adds Sundays and such other times as the mayor and board may designate with the approval of the Mississippi State Tax Commission.