By David Howell
and Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – The Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday, Dec. 19, to place additional restrictions on the sale of beer and light wine in the county beyond those imposed by the state.
The discussion was part of a lengthy meeting held in Water Valley
The ordinance went into effect as soon as it was adopted, at 2:45 p.m., according to Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn and will affect areas outside of the three municipalities.
A unanimous vote was necessary in order for the ordinance to go into effect immediately instead of being delayed an approximate month as happened in the City of Water Valley.
The new law does not allow sales on Sunday; restricts sales to hot only except in bona fide restaurants; requires businesses to be at least 300 feet from churches, schools, kindergartens or funeral homes; and does not allow signs or containers to be visible from the outside.
Under state law local governments have the power to “set rules and regulations for fixing zones and territories, prescribing hours of opening and of closing, and for such other measures as will promote public health, morals, and safety, as they may by ordinance provide.”
Board President Amos Sims opened up beer discussion allowing public input from visitors attending the meeting.
“The people have voted on the issue,” Sims said.
“The board has the responsibility of adopting some kind of ordinance here,” Sims said.
The discussion started with Yalobusha Progressive Association spokesperson Justin McGuirk’s comments.
McGuirk said it would be in the county’s best interest, economically to have seven days of operation, cold beer.
McGuirk pointed to a large turnout which seemed to peak with a large working class vote, citing it would be unfair to cut Sunday sales.
Henry Golden with Better Brands out of Oxford was next to speak. He reported his company services Miller beer in nine counties.
“I hope you guys think beyond the moment right now,?? Golden.
“I have got the only hot-only market in the America that I know of, there is not another in the state of Mississippi besides Oxford – I can’t name another one in the U.S.,” Golden said.
McGuirk then pointed out that cold wine is sold in Water Valley as the discussion continued.
“Contrary to a lot of people’s belief, we have been doing a lot of research for a long time,” Supervisor Tommy Vaughn said.
Addressing his peers and others in the board room, Vaughn said he had received input from numerous constituents in the days leading up to the meeting
“The people spoke the other day. They wanted beer in Yalobusha County and they are going to get it. I don’t think this board will do anything to keep that from happening. But I think there are some restrictions we need to at least review,” Vaughn said.
“I talked with the officials in Montgomery County and their ordinance has worked well,” Supervisors M.H. “Butch” Surrette said, adding it was not just like he liked it.
“There are also some issues that are particular to our community,” Surrette said.
Surrette then pointed to several proposed ordinances that had been prepared by Board Attorney John Crow that the board could examine.
“I understand the vote was for beer, and we accept that, but we want to preserve some integrity to the community,” Surrette continued.
Surrette then said he would like to protect houses of worship, schools, and funeral homes from being too close to a place that sells beer.
“I personally have reservations about any underage person serving, dispensing or handling the beer,” Surrette said. “They are underage, they can’t drink it. We shouldn’t tempt them with handling this product.”
Surrette then moved to appropriate distances for the places he mentioned, concerning specific footage restrictions from beer stores to churches, schools and funeral homes.
“I think both of you all have shared some light on some areas that certainly a concern,” Sims responded.
“I would like to say this decision, when we do make it, is going to be a long term decision. We don’t want to have to go back and amend it in two years,” Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman chimed in.
“We all got to live in this county and work together,” Tillman said.
“I am not sitting here today to make a quick decision,” Tillman said, then pointing to Crow to for legal input.
“I this is Montgomery’s you are going to read?” Vaughn said.
“No, this is a combination of my own thoughts as well as the county and the city. It is kind-of molded together,” Crow said.
“It really boils down to the people of the county have voted for the possession and sale of light wine and beer,” Crow continued.
Crow said the statute allows counties and cities to regulate this issue, specifically where it is sold, when it is sold and how it is sold.
“I have looked at two counties and one city,” Crow said adding that he had reviewed statutes and various Attorney General opinions on the matter.
Crow advised supervisors that they did not have to do anything, but there is very little state restrictions for selling beer and light wine.
Crow then read portions of a proposed ordinance he had drafted.
“It will not affect Coffeeville, Oakland or Water Valley,” Crow said.
One question was if it would be sold for on-site consumption at restaurants.
“You can authorize it to be cold, refrigerated. You can authorized it to be sold on-premises, a restaurant,” Crow said as he explained various options for regulating beer sales.
Supervisors agreed to allow beer to sold cold in a restaurant if 50 percent of the businesses’ revenue is derived from food sales.
Another question posed by Crow was if beer would be sold hot.
Surrette and Vaughn both said hot.
“So there would be no refrigerated sales, off premises?” Crow polled the board.
“George (Supervisor George Suggs) is the only one who doesn’t want that,” Surrette said.
“If I am going to buy one, I want it cold,” Suggs said.
“If I may ask, is the hot beer to discourage drinking and driving?” McGuirk.
McGuirk then said he could find no studies that showed that selling beer cold cut down on drinking and driving, and pointed to a recent reversal in Starkville where beer is now sold cold.
Crow then moved to potential hours allowed for beer sales.
“A lot of these jurisdictions look at ABC, agency of the State Tax Commission, as to when. Not after 12 or before 7 a.m. and no Sunday sales,” Crow said.
“The further you restrict it, the more likely you are to attack or question it,” Crow said as he moved to advice on appropriate distances that beer sales would be allowed concerning proximity to schools and churches.
Crow moved to signage, how distance is determined, and other legalese for the proposed ordinance.
Supervisors compromised on distance requirements in the ordinance, first looking at a 400 feet distance requirement.
Surrette said he was in favor of 400 feet, but Tillman and Vaughn pointed to a lesser amount.
Sylva Rena Grocery owner John Crawford then offered input to the board, saying that he initially didn’t want any part of the beer issue.
“But now that we are part of it we have to deal with it,” Crawford said, referring to the fact that beer is now legal in the county.
Crawford, whose business is adjacent to Sylva Rena Church, said if his business was too close to the church per the board’s decision with distance requirements in the ordinance, his business would likely fail due to competition from other store who could offer beer.
The distance was cut from the proposed 400 feet to 300 feet after the board was polled and Surrette stood alone.
“The distance is bird miles here,” Crow said. “In the air.”
“As the crow flys,” spectator Larry Hart corrected.
The board then reviewed sign age and visibility of beer in county store.
Visitor Lee McMinn requested that restrictions be placed on signs.
“I’m okay with that,” Surrette said told the board attorney.
Other portions of the ordinance hashed out concerned potential restrictions for age requirements for people handling beer in a store or restaurant setting.
“Why in the world would you put children in contact with that stuff… Stocking it, checking it out or serving it?” Surrette asked.
Surrette favored restricting anyone under 21 sacking beer in a grocery store environment, for example.
Tillman disagreed with Surrette.
“We are kind of blowing this thing out of proportion,” Tillman said in a tense back-and-forth discussion about age requirements for handling beer in a store environment.
“My opinion, is if a person is 18 years-old and old enough to go over to Iraq and get blown half in two and protect my freedom, they have the right to pick up a six-pack of beer and put it in a sack. Below 18, I agree with you,” Vaughn said.
Surrette said he would compromise, by allowing someone 18 to sack beer at a country store.
Cliff Lawson then questioned earlier discussion for beer signage as spelled out in the ordinance.
Supervisors reiterated their decision, as a board, that they did not want the whole reflection of the community changed with beer signage in store windows or having beer visible from the outside of a store.
Crow then read the penalties portion of the ordinance, with supervisors setting fine amounts and potential jail time for violations of the ordinance.
“That is about it, are y’all ready for the first draft,” Crow said.
“Does the board authorize the issuance of the permit?” Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn asked.
“The board will handle that,” Crow answered.