ERWIN — The deadline for two petitions — one for Unicoi County and one for the town of Erwin — that would see liquor-by-the-drink referendums placed on the November general election ballot for voters in each municipality is this Friday and, at this point, more signatures are needed before either referendum will make its way onto the ballot.
Unicoi County Deputy Administrator of Elections Teresa McFadden said Wednesday that John Day, the Unicoi County resident who started the petitions, submitted some signatures to the Election Commission office on Aug. 27. McFadden said 45 approved signatures have been turned in for the petition to have the liquor-by-the-drink referendum for the county, and 59 signatures have been submitted for the Erwin referendum. A total of 192 approved signatures are needed for the county’s petition, and 153 are needed for the town’s.
Earlier this year, Day started the petitions to have the referendums placed on the ballot for voters in both governmental entities. If passed, these referendums would allow restaurants located in the town and county to sell liquor and wine.
Day said Wednesday that Tina Crowder, owner of the Rendezvous Bar and Grill in Erwin, had taken charge of gathering the needed signatures on each petition. Day said he has been advised the petitions are approaching the number of required signatures, but more are still needed on each petition.
“It will go right down to the wire I’m sure,” Day said.
Those in favor of the referendums’ passage believe liquor by the drink could draw perspective restaurants to the county and boost local tax revenues lost when people leave the county to patronize restaurants that allow them to have a drink with dinner.
The issue has also been the subject of opposition by some in the community, including a pair of prayer meetings. Edd Bolton, who was involved in the organization of both of these meetings, previously said he does not feel the passage of liquor by the drink would lead to increased revenues for the area.
“I feel like Erwin doesn’t need liquor by the drink,” Bolton said previously. “A lot of people are hollering ‘revenue’ and, yes, Erwin does need revenue. But I don’t see the revenue happening. They think if we get liquor by the drink that the big restaurants will come in. They’re not. They’re not going to come in. The restaurants look at demographics and rooftops and income. They look at rooftops and income and neither is here.
“So I don’t think that we will see any big restaurants come in, and Erwin has been a quiet community and it’s known for that. And I’d like to keep it that way.”
Voters in the town of Unicoi, which enacted liquor by the drink within its limits in 2006, will have the opportunity to vote on a package store referendum. Petitions started earlier this year by Unicoi resident Charles Lynch for a referendum to allow package stores within the town’s limits have already been submitted to the Election Commission office with the required number of signatures.