Mike O'Neal

Registered voters living in Rossville can go to the polls next Tuesday, March 21, to participate in a special election related to the sale of alcoholic beverages.

There are two referendums on the ballot. One deals with whether or not to extend the current law governing retail (package) sale of malt beverages and wine, already allowed six days a weeks, to include Sunday sales. The other referendum asks voters to approve or reject the sale of distilled spirits (liquor) by the drink.

During the first week of early voting, which began Feb. 27, a total of eight ballots had been cast as of 11 a.m. on March 13.

Similar issues have been on ballots in municipalities throughout the region, both in Tennessee and Georgia, for at least 50 years. Opponents have battled "demon rum," claiming that allowing its sale shows a breakdown of individual and family values, that it leads to increased crime and corruption, and that it is a sign of moral decay.

Those complaints were raised in Chickamauga and LaFayette as well as in Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold when similar referendums were decided. In fact, the ordinance allowing sales of fermented beverages (beer, malt, etc. and wine) in convenience, grocery and drug stores within Rossville's city limits was not approved by voters in a non-binding straw poll but was passed by the city council.

Just like adoption of similar legislation has not prompted Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold to be likened to Sodom and Gomorrah, being able to sell fermented beverages has not been the ruin of Rossville.

Rossville now is a dry island in a region awash in Sunday package sales for carry out, and liquor by the drink for on-site consumption is permitted. Perhaps the only opponents to the upcoming vote would be from businesses — in Chattanooga, East Ridge, Chickamauga, Fort Oglethorpe and the unincorporated areas of Walker and Catoosa counties — that might worry they will lose sales.

How much revenue extending package sales or changing on premises consumption could generate is unknown. But sales tax receipts in Fort Oglethorpe continue to grow with each new "opening soon" sign for eateries along the Battlefield Parkway corridor.

It might be years before anyone applied for a new liquor license or opened a new restaurant. But without the potential profits that alcoholic beverage sales generate the chances of attracting a national chain like an O'Charley's, Applebee's, Logan's or Bennigan's is beyond a possibility.

Opposition to easing the availability of alcoholic beverage sales nearly always makes claims that such changes lead to increased crime. But having reported on similar situations in Tennessee and Georgia, it is often police chiefs and sheriffs who support regulated sales of alcoholic beverages.

As the Signal Mountain, Tenn., police chief advised his city council, it is better to have someone driving out of the city to buy alcohol, if they are going to drink anyhow, not have to drive miles and be tempted to begin drinking on the road. Likewise, if someone becomes intoxicated at a restaurant, where by law drunks cannot be served, it is more likely that they can catch a ride home, walk or call a cab rather than get behind the wheel themselves.

The growing public effort to revitalize Rossville intends to regain some of the city's past glories, when it was a center of shopping, athletics and services. The cost of this special election — hiring poll workers and printing ballots — is less than $1,000, an amount that could be recouped quickly if just one restaurant owner decides to open in Rossville rather than elsewhere.

So the time has come for those that want their city to restore its reputation to find a few minutes, either during these last days of early voting or next Tuesday on election day, to put their ballot where their mouth is.

It might be a tiny drop in the bucket, but every little bit helps.

Mike O'Neal, assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger, can be reached by email at moneal@npco.com or by phone at 706-638-1859.

Mike O'Neal is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga. He can be reached at the Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at moneal@npco.com.