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Polk County Growth and Advancement petitioning for alcohol

By Trey Youngdahl

Once again, a petition to change Polk County from a dry county, meaning a county that does not allow the sale of alcohol, to a wet county, which would allow such business, is being circulated. The campaign is being headed by the Polk County Growth and Advancement (PCGA) committee.

PCGA was founded in 2022 by Derek Campbell and Jason Moore, after talks of such change started in 2021. Campbell, who most notably owns The Ouachitas, formerly known as Ouachita Coffee Roasters, was a key player in the establishment of a temporary entertainment district in Polk County. He is co-chair of the group alongside Moore.

After being presented on several occasions by various groups, the committee is again pushing the petition for this upcoming voting season.

“The way the regulations are set up, currently you have to receive just a little more than 30% of registered voters within that county,” Campbell said. “Polk County has over 20,000 people, so that lands us needing around 4,700 voter signatures.”

To qualify to sign the petitions, you must be registered to vote, and have voted in the last four years. Petitions are available at The Ouachitas, Little Italy, The Market, Papa Poblano’s, Northside Citgo, Scotty’s, American Artisans and Big Fork Mall.

“What this is really about is being able to retain the tax revenue that is lost to the surrounding counties and states due to Polk County being dry,” Campbell said. “Once Polk County is a wet county, local businesses will be able to operate a little bit easier and save money due to the regulations that you have to abide by to have alcohol in our establishments, but the community would then have the option to stay within the county and travel a lesser distance in order to purchase the drinks that they are already consuming in their home.”

Some citizens are concerned that the county will be affected negatively by the change. Drunk driving, underage drinking, rising crime rates and general moral degradation of our area are all proposed issues regarding Polk County becoming wet. Don “Cloud” Davis, sitting president of political activist group We The People TEA Party, shared his opinion on the subject.

“I chose to live in Polk County because of what it is and what it isn’t. If I wanted to live in a wet county, I’d move to Hot Springs or Texarkana. I value the fact that Polk County is dry, and I choose to live here in part because of that,” Cloud said. “There are huge advantages to being a dry county—and that is that we don’t deal with the ramifications that alcohol brings. Personal indulgence is fine, that doesn’t affect me until someone crosses over the yellow line at night and kills somebody.”

Statistics and data website Infotracer.com states that every 50 minutes in America someone dies from an alcohol-related car crash. DUI-related crashes account for 28% of all deaths in America each year. Alcohol-impaired driving costs the U.S. $44 billion per year in damages and medical fees. 

They also propose that one study showed in Kentucky 39,000 alcohol-related deaths occurred from residents driving far from home to get liquor because they lived in dry communities. Other studies support the idea that if people have to drive further from home to drink, there is a much higher chance of them getting into an alcohol-related car crash. In wet counties, residents have much shorter distances to drive, thus less opportunity of a car crash while intoxicated.

Crime rates fluctuate in conjunction to whether or not a county is wet or dry. According to Jonesboro news outlet KAIT8.com (per 1,000 people), “When Marion County (north Arkansas) went wet back in 2006, the crime rate was 2.58. Two years after it rose to 4.46. After the fourth year the crime rate lowered.” 

“Not all communities that prohibit the sale of liquor have high crime rates and higher arrests. In some cases, the driving arrests decrease, and in others, they stay the same. It depends on the area, the resident population and other factors unrelated to alcohol,” Infotracer states. “Some areas of the country do experience a decrease in crime and arrests going dry, but because of all the variables, statistics do not support the connection as an overall fact nationwide.”

In 2016, Little River County in southwest Arkansas changed from dry to wet, passing by nearly 1,000 votes. This came after a study was done by the University of Arkansas, where they found that if Little River County had been a wet county the year before in 2015, residents would have spent $1,284,952 in beer purchases and $1,070,374 in liquor and wine sales in the county. The total packaged alcohol sales would have amounted to an estimated $2,355,326. In 2015, those retail sales of alcohol would have generated an additional 1.9% in sales tax revenues for Little River County or $52,995. Total city sales taxes collected from the sales of retail liquor in Little River County would have amounted to $47,107.

Property taxes on new construction of package liquor stores also generate ongoing revenue streams of $4,456, split among cities, the county, and school districts. This economic activity in Little River County in 2015 would have been associated with a total of 11.5 jobs across all industries with a labor income of $325,112.

In addition to ongoing economic impact, if one new liquor store were constructed, a one-time economic output of $554,331 would be generated and a total of 4.3 jobs would be created across all industries in Little River County.

“Based on past data, we’ve seen no uptick in crime or alcohol-related incidents, or anything related to the matter,” Little River County Judge Mike Cranford said. “It’s been relatively flat, if not gone down some.”

Judge Cranford shared that there wasn’t a single negative impact on Little River as a result of the county going wet.

The earliest the petition can be turned in is July 11, 2022. If the petition gathers enough signatures, the initiative will be on the General Election ballot. The General Election is November 8, while early voting begins October 24. This is not to be confused with the Preferential Primary Election on May 24, with early voting beginning May 9.

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