Beer would be sold on the shelves of grocery and convenience stores in Crawford County if one member of the county’s Quorum Court has his wish.
Butch Barnes, who represents northern Crawford County on the Quorum Court, proposed a ballot initiative at the Court's Monday (March 18) meeting that would allow the county to move from being a dry county to a wet county.
Barnes said his initiative comes down to money.
"If we can get this thing here passed, we're talking about millions in revenue," he said.
Even though Crawford County is dry, Barnes said the majority of the county's residents only have to drive 10 miles or less to be able to purchase alcohol in neighboring wet counties.
Since some residents are already drinking, Barnes suggests the county needs to at least keep the sales tax associated with alcohol sales in Crawford County instead of letting other counties profit.
He said while he does not want bars to open up all over town, Barnes is in favor of jobs alcohol sales could provide and using the additional sales tax revenue generated by sales on desperately needed projects, such as expanding the Crawford County Jail.
"It would give us the money to build a new jail and build roads. We've got the best road department in the state, but if you ain't got no money, (you can't build roads)," Barnes said.
When Barnes proposed the ballot initiative Monday, he says he was met with opposition from some members of the Quorum Court.
Part of the opposition, Barnes said, came from individuals who believe the Quorum Court should not be meddling in issues that could be contentious, such as the wet/dry issue.
But Barnes once again said the Court should focus on the revenue alcohol could bring to the county.
"Anything that could bring millions in revenue should be our only business," he said.
Concerns about increased numbers of drunks and morality are most certainly going to divide citizens on the issue, Barnes said. But he said Crawford County residents should not have a knee-jerk reaction against his proposed ballot initiative.
"I don't think the Lord I believe in is going to send our people to Hell for drinking a glass of wine or some beers," he said. "I'm sorry guys, but think about it. Do you think there's going to be one more drunk in this county? That's my point I want to make to my Christian brothers."
In order for the ballot initiative to gain any traction, the Quorum Court must first approve a ballot title for the initiative, said Crawford County Judge John Hall.
"He'll have to garnish the signatures with the ballot title," Hall said, adding that in order for a petition to gain enough signatures to appear on the ballot, Barnes would need to collect signatures from 38% of registered Crawford County voters. That means 11,854 valid signatures are needed.
"There's a process that has to be followed and that process is quite lengthy and quite complicated and he's going to have to ask someone a lot smarter than me," Hall joked.
In an e-mail, spokesman Alex Reed of the Arkansas Secretary of State's Office said an election date could be set at a time determined by "the local government," which is the Crawford County Quorum Court. Reed also said in order for the ballot initiative to pass, it only needs a simple majority of voters.
Barnes said he was excited to see this process get started, though he admitted it would be a long, uphill battle.
"If selling beer is going to make us a bad county, so be it. Every county is bad around us, too," he said.
But Barnes said he will not be the only voice and the only person taking the petition to voters.
"We'll have to get it on the ballot. We have to get signatures," he said. "I didn't just spring this (on the Court). I know of half a dozen men who have said we'll take petitions around. ... I'm trying to kick the ball. Someone else needs to carry it."