Joe Meeks, Michael Wigley, and Tom Wingard review signatures on a petition to get an alcohol initiative on the November General Election ballot in Monticello

The Monticello “Vote for Growth” group launched a petition drive Saturday to place on the November ballot a measure to allow alcohol sales in the “dry” Marion Township.

Monticello is located in Marion Township.

The group, which has a self-imposed deadline of June 30, collected about 50 of the 2,250 signatures needed to get the issue on the November 2012 general election ballot.

Supporters say alcohol sales would be an economic boon to Monticello, which is dry.

At an informational meeting at the Monticello Country Club last September, the group cited economic reasons for pursuing the initiative. Proponents believe Monticello would see increased economic activity, more jobs, increased tourism, more restaurants and retail businesses, and an increase in tax revenue if Marion Township allowed the sale of alcohol.

“Many people in the surrounding counties buy virtually everything in Drew County but then have to turn around and drive the other way to buy alcoholic beverages,” Monticello businessman Ron Echols said at the September meeting.

Echols is one of several Monticello businessmen leading the initiative.

Citing research by the Small Business Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Monticello businessman Tom Wingard said Marion Township is losing at least $730,000 in annual in sales as a result of being dry.

“That’s just one of the benefits of making Marion Township wet, keeping sales tax dollars here,” Wingard said at the September meeting.

Nathan Chaney, the attorney who guided wet proponents in the successful initiatives in Clark and Boone counties, said wet counties generally grow faster than dry counties. Going wet, he said, prevented the city of Arkadelphia from going into the red in 2011.

Addressing the issue of increased traffic accidents and DUIs as a result of being wet, Echols said that was not the case in three cities that recently voted to allow alcohol sales.

Arkadelphia, Ark., Cullman, Ala., and Lubbock, Tex., all reported that the number of DUIs and traffic fatalities decreased after going wet, Echols said.

Organized opposition to the intitative hasn’t surfaced, but Echols said Monticello businessman Ralph Wells, who opposes the initiative, purchased several ads in the local newspaper and appeared a local access cable channel.

“There are very few people who are going to have their mind changed on this issue,” Echols said. “They’re either for it or against it…. We’re not trying to change anybody’s mind to believe anything other than what they believe. We respect their opinion and we’d like for our’s to be respected.”

If the petitioners are successful in gathering the needed signatures and the initiative passes in the November general election, the law allows the sale of beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores and one liquor store per 4,000 population — in this case, three. Since there is already two existing liquor permits in Drew County’s wet Live Oak Township, which would be grandfathered, there would only be one permit issued for Marion Township, according to Echols.

A second election, which would be a city-wide special election, would be required to sell mixed drinks in restaurants.

Echols said any registered voter in the Marion Township may sign the petition to get the initiative on the ballot.