By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – The Board of Aldermen met at a hastily called meeting Tuesday, Dec.18, night at City Hall to discuss a proposed ordinance to regulate the sale of beer and light wine in the city.
The meeting was called amid concerns that businesses in the town could begin sales using state permits that have already been issued.
In a four-to-one vote, aldermen passed a regulatory ordinance including language stating no beer or light wine shall be sold for on-premises consumption within 250 feet of the property line of any church or school property functioning as a church, school, or child care facility and adjacent parking.
Also, no beer or light wine shall be sold for off-premises consumption within 100 feet of the property line of any church or school property functioning as a church, school or child care facility and parking lots adjacent to these facilities.
With Alderman Fred White casting a dissenting vote, the ordinance will not go into effect immediately. If the vote had been unanimous, the city ordinance could have been enacted immediately, according to City Attorney David Burns.
White was in favor of allowing beer to be sold cold and on Sundays after church.
The city ordinance will take effect in late January and in the meantime, Water Valley is under state law, which allows beer to be sold seven days a week, 365 days a year, hot or cold and without distance limitations. State law does restrict the time from 7 a.m. until midnight each day.
Burns also cautioned the board “that anything permitted by the state in the interim could be – arguably – grandfathered in.”
Before the vote, the Yalobusha Progressive Association gave the board a draft proposal and questioned the distance requirements, the issue of hot or cold sales, and the ban on Sunday sales.
City Attorney Burns explained that he had looked at the ordinances of other municipalities including Oxford and Starkville to see “how they were addressing these issues.”
“Anybody could understand why certain parts of the community might have an issue with sales on Sunday. The proximity issues not only deal with churches but also deal with schools and child-care facilities. And as a parent I can see why you wouldn’t want a juke joint right next to the school,” Burns added.
One concern voiced during the meeting was over the issue of economic development in the central business district. “We have a store-front church right in the middle of town,” said spectator Betsy Person. “Maybe you’ll want to consider that when you think about distance.”
Another concern was the restriction on cold beer sales. “If Coffeeville votes cold and we vote hot, then we are really losing revenue to Coffeeville,” said Johnny Sayles of Sayle Oil Company.
Addressing the board, Cliff Lawson asked, “Why do you feel that cold beer would be more of a threat to the community than hot beer?”
“I can tell you why cold isn’t a good idea,” answered Alderman Tommy Swearengen. “People are going to walk into his store and his cash register person is going to have to check that one beer out and put it in a sack. That fellow is going to get in his car and drink it on the way home. That’s one reason not to have cold”
“But that’s illegal under current law anyway,” Lawson responded.
“But, it’s still a temptation to drink it cold,” added Alderman Charlie Harris.
After hearing from the public, the board began discussion on the hours during which beer could be sold.
“We need to determine a time on this,” commented Alderman Lance Clement.
“Monday through Saturday from 7 to 12,” Mayor Norris said.
“And 12 to 12 on Sunday,” injected Alderman Fred White. “Or, 1 to 12. I wouldn’t want to sell it during church hours.”
Several aldermen said they didn’t want to allow sales on Sunday.
When it came time to vote, the issue of hot or cold sales was the deciding factor that kept the ordinance from being accepted unanimously. White said that he preferred that it be sold cold.
“Then you didn’t vote for the ordinance?” asked Alderman Martin.
“Not for hot, my vote would be for cold,” Alderman White answered.
“That would be four for the ordinance as is,” the mayor said.
After a brief pause, spectator Sayle questioned, “Could I ask what just happened?”
The Mayor explained that instead of going into effect immediately, the ordinance would not take effect for 30 days. And, anyone applying for a permit would be doing so under state law.
The Mayor then moved on to the next order of business, which was Renasant Bank’s bid as city depository. The alderman voted unanimously to accept the bid.
Finally, the board voted to table a discussion of Vista III Media.