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Petition results may leave Erwin in high spirits

August 20th, 2014 10:27 pm by Brad Hicks

Petition results may leave Erwin in high spirits

ERWIN — If the proper requirements are met and everything checks out with the Unicoi County Election Commission, voters within the town of Erwin will have the opportunity during the November election to decide whether to allow for the sale of wine and liquor in the town.

A pair of petitions — one pertaining to the passage of liquor by the drink and the other to allow for the establishment of retail package stores — have been circulating around the town for the past few weeks. Referendums for each item could appear on on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

The effort to obtain signatures on the petitions has been low-key, as the petitions have not been set out at public places. Erwin Public Works Director Mark Lafever is one of the people involved in the process. Lafever stressed that his involvement comes not as a town employee but as a citizen of Erwin.

“I’m the one that everybody kind of turned the petitions in to,” Lafever said.

Lafever said he feels the referendums are worth pursuing as the passage of liquor by the drink and allowance for retail package stores could benefit the town.

“I just want the people to have an opportunity to vote on it in November,” Lafever said. “It’s not necessarily that I support it but, as a taxpayer, I feel the city always needs to entertain any idea of revenue. We need to explore every avenue of revenue we can, and this is a big one.”

Lafever said he and others involved in the effort respect the beliefs of those who may be opposed to such measures, but he said the passage of the referendums could serve as tools to attract businesses to the town.

“We are losing tax dollars every day to folks going out of the town to spend money, and we need to capture that,” he said. “...We owe it to the citizens to try to find that revenue.”

The sale of beer is already permitted within the town of Erwin.

Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey said it seems that with each general election someone within the town initiates an effort to get liquor by the drink and retail package store referendums, but she said she is not aware of the items meeting the requirements to make it on the ballot.

However, the latest push appears to be gaining more traction than prior efforts. Pages of signatures have already been submitted to the election commission office, and Bailey said as of Wednesday afternoon the petition for the allowance of package stores had 160 signatures, and the petition for liquor by the drink had garnered 143 signatures.

For the referendums to appear on the November ballot, each petition must be signed by 10 percent of the total of Erwin’s voters who cast their ballots in the 2010 governor’s election. This would mean that each petition would require 153 signatures. Bailey said these signatures must come from registered voters residing within the limits of Erwin, and the signature’s must match up with the signatures on each signer’s voter registration information.

The deadline for the submission of signatures is 5 p.m. today. The Unicoi County Election Commission will meet this Tuesday to not only certify the candidates for the November municipal election, but also to review and certify any submitted petitions.

Bailey said if the petitions meet the signature requirements and are certified, the referendums will appear on the ballot just below the spot where Erwin voters will vote for town aldermen.

“If one or if both meet the standard, 153 signatures, they will be placed at the end of the ballot right after the aldermen,” Bailey said.

In November 2012, voters in the town of Unicoi passed a referendum to allow for the establishment of retail liquor stores within the town’s limits and had previously passed a referendum allowing liquor by the drink. This would have allowed for Unicoi citizens to petition for a wine-in-grocery-stores referendum on the November ballot, but Bailey said this is unlikely as no signatures have been submitted to her office ahead of today’s deadline.

Bailey said if the liquor store or liquor by the drink referendum appears on the November ballot for Erwin voters and either is passed by a majority vote, it would allow Erwin residents to petition for the sale of wine in grocery stores during the next general election in November 2016. 

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