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Southwest Arkansas county considers alcohol sales - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Southwest Arkansas county considers alcohol sales

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MAGNOLIA, Ark -

A new group of Magnolia, Arkansas, residents are working to get a proposal on the fall ballot asking voters to legalize alcohol sales in Columbia County.
    
However, opponents say it's not a good plan for their community.
    
While the natural state has long been a patchwork of wet and dry counties, some are hoping that trend will soon begin to shift.

Columbia County outlawed alcohol sales in 1943 and the issue hasn't come up for a vote in decades, but supporters believe that should change.

"We are losing lots of money to neighboring counties, parishes in Louisiana," said David Nelson, Vote for Growth in Columbia County group leader. "It's time to keep that money in our town and county."

Nelson says people are moving away from South Arkansas and his group wants that to stop.

According to the last US Census, the population has decreased by more than 1,000 people.  

Meanwhile, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia hit a record enrollment this fall.

Nelson says traffic accidents and fatalities are also statistically lower in wet counties than dry counties.

"In Columbia County, you have to drive 20 to 30 minutes any direction in order to get alcohol, so that increases the number of people on the roads and your accident fatality rate will be higher," said Nelson.

An hour and a half north, Arkadelphia voted for alcohol sales in 2010.

Police there say they've seen a decrease in traffic and criminal offenses.

Arkadelphia city officials say since January 2011 they've collected about $1.2 million dollars in gross sales of beer and wine.

Magnolia resident Nina Hickman doesn't believe alcohol sales equals progress.

She says the alcohol proposal isn't good for anyone in the county, especially children and teens.

"There's very much a safety factor here, we already have enough problems without adding alcohol to our county," said Hickman.

For a short time, a Magnolia restaurant called the Bayou Bistro had a private alcohol license, but they were taken to court.

Even though, they won the lawsuit, the restaurant is no longer open.

Most residents have strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

"I do not think it should pass, I hope all the Christian people that should be living here in this county will take a stand against it," said Hickman.

"I certainly hope the more progressive people are going to go out to the polls and make this legal, said Ivy Blanks, Magnolia resident.   

The petition calls for a cap of about four to six liquor stores total to be built in the county, if the measure passes.

Nelson says everyone should be able to have a voice on the issue.   

"Just because your signing this petition, it does not mean you're for alcohol, said Nelson. "It simply means your willing to put it on the ballot and put it to a vote of the people."

The petition will be turned in this summer.
    
The group must gather signatures from 38 percent of registered voters in the county, or about 6,300 people to qualify for the ballot.

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