Benton County venues look toward wet/dry vote

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 59 views 

BENTONVILLE — As many as 55 new liquor stores may call Benton County home should voters pass an initiative to allow retail alcohol sales in November.

State law allows one liquor store per every 4,000 residents of a county. More than 220,000 people reside in Benton County, so the number of liquor store permitted is capped at 55, Michael Langley, director of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control department said.

There is no limit on the number of grocery stores and convenience stores that will be allowed to sell alcohol. Though, they will only be permitted to sell beer and small farm wines, Langley said.

Langley said a second vote will be needed to determine if restaurants, outside of those licensed as private clubs will be allowed to sell liquor by the drink, or mixed drinks.

The earliest the second vote can be called to question is six months after the November election, should the wet initiative be passed, according to Langley.

Matt Amato, owner of Beef O'Brady's in Bentonville, said he is excited about the possibility of Benton County going wet.

"I'm definitely excited for it. I hope it passes and I hope we are able to start saving money," Amato said.

Because Beef O'Brady's is licensed to sell alcohol as a private club, the taxes charged on beer and liquor are over 20%, Amato said. He hopes that if Benton County goes wet, he and his customers will be able to save a little money on those taxes. 

Amato said he is also excited about being able to get alcohol delivered after the county goes wet. Amato goes to Washington County to buy alcohol to sell at Beef O'Brady's, spending between $2,000 and $3,000 there each week.

"That's money that can stay here," should Benton County go wet, Amato said. Those taxes "can do some good things for us with our roads and everything else."

Langley said the ABC is getting prepared should the wet initiative pass in November.

"In anticipation of this, it's our expectation another agent will be hired and placed in Benton County," Langley said, noting that the ABC has also introduced new education programs this year and several private club owners in Benton County have already taken the classes. 

The question of whether to allow the sale of alcohol is being called to a vote after Keep Dollars in Benton County gathered enough signatures to place it on the ballot. Of the 56,000 signatures collected by the group, more than 41,000 were accepted and certified by County Clerk Tena O'Brien last month.

The signatures were gathered by National Ballot Access, a Lawrencebill, Ga., based company specializing in petitions. Most of the money paid to NBA was contributed the Walmart heirs Tom and Steuart Walton who each contributed $180,000, according to contribution records filed with the clerk's office.

No complaints were filed challenging the signatures within the 10 day filing period after O'Brien's certification, clearing the way for the initiative to be placed on the November ballot.

Should the initiative pass, county residents could see retail sales of liquor as early as May or June, Langley said.

Marshall Ney, an attorney with Mitchell Williams Law in Rogers, and spokesperson for Keep Dollars in Benton County, said the group's main focus is now to encourage voters to cast their ballots Nov. 6.

"Our main priority between now and election day is to encourage all Benton County residents to vote," Ney said. "Based on our successful signature campaign, we are confident that Benton County will be voted wet if there is a strong turn out on election day."