ELIZABETHTON — A referendum to permit liquor stores inside the Elizabethton city limits was approved by the voters on Tuesday night by a vote of 1,428 to 1,201.
The referendum was placed on the ballot through the work of businessman Billy Chappell. He said he wanted to give the voters the opportunity to decide whether to continue to allow tax revenue from Carter County to continue going to Johnson City.
“There is a reason there are two big package stores next to each other in Johnson City on South Roan Street,” Chappell said. “It’s to get the tax money from all those people driving over from Elizabethton to buy wine and liquor. Johnson City not only gets its share of the 9.75 percent sales tax, it gets to keep all of the additional 5 percent alcohol tax.
“That money going to Johnson City can be used by Elizabethton to fund special projects. It can help us keep the property taxes lower.”
Unlike previous referendums involving the sale of alcohol in the city, this year’s referendum was quiet, with little public debate over the matter. There were a few yard signs promoting a yes vote on the referendum but hardly any signs against it.
Tim Gouge, pastor of Roan Street Free Will Baptist Church in Elizabethton, was one who did speak out against package stores. He disputed the financial benefit that liquor stores will bring the city.
“I see the damage that alcohol brings, I deal with it on a day-to day-basis,” Gouge said. “The commercials always show the glamor, but they don’t show the broken lives and broken homes.”
The Elizabethton City Planning Commission already has prepared for the coming of liquor stores. Two months ago, it designated a change in the zoning law to allow liquor stores only in the arterial business districts. Now that the referendum has passed, the zoning change will now go before the City Council for approval.