Jefferson mixed drink referendum put on hold, for now

By Alan Bulluck

May 1, 2014

Jefferson voters will have to wait at least another year before they may have the opportunity to vote on a mixed drink referendum.

At the monthly meeting of the Jefferson Board of Aldermen, on Monday, April 28, the board voted to table discussion on allowing voters to vote on whether or not bars and restaurants in Jefferson can serve liquor by the drink, until the off-year election in November 2015.

At the board’s March meeting, Allen Pruitt, owner of Coaches Sports Grill, asked the board to consider allowing voters the opportunity to vote on a mixed-drink referendum, and they obliged.

“We’re losing business,” Pruitt said, at the March meeting. “In order to save what I’ve built, I need it (liquor by the drink), the town needs it.”

Alderman Mark Johnston agreed, citing the added tax revenue as one of the benefits of allowing liquor by the drink.

“We need to be able to retain these businesses,” Johnston said, at the March meeting. “Whatever will pull people over here, we need people over here.”

Town manager Cathy Howell spoke to the Ashe County Board of Elections who advised her that it would be best to hold such a referendum next year, so as to avoid the cost of holding a special election and to avoid any confusion among voters who live outside of the Jefferson town limits, who happen to vote in a precinct located within the town limits.

“They told me that it would be best to hold the election for the mixed drink referendum at next year’s election,” Howell said. “Only town residents are able to vote on that particular item.”

Howell said the Board of Elections advised her it would be better for the board to wait until closer to November 2015 before they vote on whether or not to allow the referendum to go forward. The board unanimously agreed.

When the board takes up the matter next year, however, there’s no guarantee the town will hold such a referendum.

In May 2006, the Board of Aldermen voted to put a beer and wine referendum on the ballot, but that vote only narrowly passed by a 3-2 margin, with the late Mayor Dana Tugman casting the tie-breaking vote that moved the referendum forward.

Current alderman Charles Caudill and Mayor Bluferd Eldreth cast the two ‘no’ votes and current aldermen Johnston and Max Yates voted ‘yes.’

Aldermen Wes Williams and Mike Herman were not members of the board in 2006.

In August 2006, voters approved the sale of beer and wine in the Jefferson town limits. The next year, West Jefferson voters approved a mixed drink referendum by a vote of 226-151.

In other board related business:

• The board unanimously approved a resolution honoring the late Luther F. “Junior” Anderson, who served on the board for 22 years and passed away in February.

• The board was informed about the construction of a cell phone tower beside Ashe Memorial Hospital. The tower will be located off Doctors Drive in the woods, some 200 feet off the property.

“We have nothing in our zoning ordinance concerning cell towers, or any tower for that matter,” Howell said. “If you see anything going up over there, that’s what it is.”

• The board talked about the need for extra lighting downtown for purposes of security.

“We think the town needs to be lit up a little more than it is,” Johnston said. “Anything that goes on in town, the two church parking lots and old courthouse parking lot, that’s where people are gonna park.”

“There needs to be little pockets of lighting to improve the look of the town,” Herman said. The illumination of greenspaces would add elements of security and aesthetic value to the town, according to Herman.

• The board authorized Howell to look into purchasing new magnetic Town of Jefferson placards, to be placed on all vehicles owned by the town.

“They (town employees) pull up in the yard and the people don’t know who they are or why they’re out there,” Johnston said. “They should put them on both sides of their trucks so the public knows who they are and what they’re doing.”

The next regular meeting of the board is scheduled for Tuesday, May 27, the day after Memorial Day.

Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.