Aldermen discuss alcohol

By BRENT MAZE,

Newton’s Board of Aldermen are considering ways to increase tax revenue, and that included the possiblity of legalizing all alcohol sales.

Alderman Ray Payne said he was tired of seeing all of the tax money spent on alcohol by local residents going to other counties.

“There’s no sense in us in a town that needs constant revenue, and we’ve got a chance to get it, we need to at least look into it,” Payne said. “I know we’re going to have some people against it, but everybody’s growing except Newton. The taxes are definitely going to help the school.”

However, the board of aldermen have little power to enact such a measure. Because the city’s population falls below the 5,000 minimum required for city residents to call for a vote to go wet, city attorney Robert Logan said the city has only two avenues to pursue legalizing the sale of all alcohol above the city’s current beer and light wine sales.

The first option is for at least 20 percent of the Newton County qualified electors to sign a petition to call for a referendum on alcohol sales in the entire county. The other is for a petition to declare certain portions of Newton as a resort area, which could allow for the sale of alcohol.

Alderman Michael Hillie was on the board when the city allowed beer and light wine sales, and he said it didn’t hurt the town as much as some said it would.

“If somebody comes to Newton to buy liquor, they’re also going to be buying gas and other stuff. We’ve got to get people into the city to start buying stuff in the city,” Hillie said.

Alderman Bob Bridges was the only alderman present at the April 3 meeting who didn’t say he would back an alcohol measure at this time. Alderman Eric McCalphia and Mayor Murray Weems were both absent at the meeting.

“I would have to pray long and hard about it,” Bridges said.

Payne said a petition is going around trying to legalize alcohol sales. Hillie said the petition wouldn’t matter if it didn’t contain signatures of active registered voters.