CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
KINGSLAND — A group of citizens has launched a county-wide, alcohol-option petition to place a proposition on the ballot that would allow businesses the ability to sell and serve liquor by the drink.
Burnet County Committee for Economic Growth must collect about 4,200 signatures for the mixed-beverage option to place the proposition on the November ballot.
If passed by voters, stores and restaurants in unincorporated areas such as Spicewood and Kingsland as well as cities such as Bertram would have the chance to apply for licenses with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to serve liquor for on-premises consumption and, in other cases, expand the types of alcohol allowed in their geographic areas.
“Currently in the Burnet County area, some (justice of the peace) districts are ‘dry.’ Some are ‘wet.’ Some have full alcohol privileges. Some only have beer and wine,” said committee treasurer Gene Broadway. “This county-wide initiative will just make it so it’s a blanket initiative for everyone, say similar to what you have in downtown Marble Falls, (where) you can go into one of the establishments there and order a mixed drink if you want.”
“Wet,” “damp” and “dry” refer to the extent an area can serve and sell alcohol for on-premises and/or off-premises consumption.
Broadway said he launched the local effort after a golf outing in Kingsland at a course located in Burnet County Precinct 1.
“We said, ‘Gosh, when we finish playing golf, we’d really like to be able to sit in a place and have a drink.’ Several people started asking that question,’” he said.
But the golfers discovered they couldn’t purchase an alcoholic drink after their outing.
TABC law in the unincorporated area of Precinct 1 requires businesses to serve food and customers to pay a so-called private club fee for the option of on-premises consumption of alcohol.
“(The golf course owner would) have to have a restaurant and have a certain percentage (of food). It’s an economic disadvantage for them,” Broadway said.
Law enforcement has raised concerns about the potential impact on public safety with expanded alcohol options.
“(Alcohol) would be more accessible. Anytime you have a club-type of establishment that does serve alcohol as part of a menu or something else like a restaurant, it creates an environment for the potential of an increase of intoxicated drivers,” said Burnet County Chief Deputy Joey Canady.
“Our officers would just need to be aware of another establishment in Burnet County that would serve alcohol that could potentially have persons leaving from there in an intoxicated state. It could be an alcohol-related disturbance or a person driving in an intoxicated state. Those things we’re trying to prevent.”
The petitioners approached a Buda-based consulting firm that specializes in passing alcohol-option ordinances across the state to advocate for the proposition and assist with the petition process.
“The biggest issue with Burnet County is y’all have such a mix-match of different versions of ‘wet,’ which have passed since Prohibition,” said John Hatch, owner of Texas Petitions Strategies. “In essence, what we’re trying to do is create a level playing field for everybody.”
Since 2003, Hatch said he has seen opposition to alcohol options diminish and as many as 500 communities in Texas vote to become “wet.”
“We saw roughly the same pattern. You roughly had 50 to 60 percent of the community who was OK with beer and wine in the grocery stores. They were OK with restaurant sales. You had 25 to 35 percent who are opposed for moral and religious reasons … and then you had about 10 to 15 percent who were clueless.”
He said growing opposition in recent years has involved potential competitors denouncing expanded alcohol options for their neighbors.
Proponents of selling liquor by the drink county-wide say voters have begun to support a more uniform law. Right now, where you can and can’t purchase some alcoholic beverages depends on what part of the county you are standing in.
For example, Burnet County Precinct 1 allows an option for beer and wine off-premises sales for stores and in restaurants with a TABC club license, Hatch said.
In the Spicewood area in Precinct 4, retail store owners are limited to selling beer (with less than 5 percent alcohol) and some wine coolers but no wine for off-premises consumption only.
“Why is it in this town, they can have a liquor store, but in this town, they can’t? Why is it I have to join a private club to have a glass of wine with my meal in this town but not over here in this town?” Hatch said. “(Different rules for individual precincts) get very confusing for businesses and very confusing for customers.”
The consultants released figures of the potential economic benefit should voters approve the county-wide option.
“Burnet County and its cities’ potential economic impact could be approximately $34.1 million in annual sales, over 330 area jobs and nearly $771,000 in sales-tax revenues,” according to a statement by the firm.
If approved, the county-wide option would apply to county precincts and cities that do not already have an alcohol option in place, and the new law would not supersede existing options passed in city elections, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.
Despite the promise of more prosperity for businesses that profit from alcohol sales, authorities emphasized the need for the increased vigilance that goes along with expanded alcohol access.
“We’re not trying discourage any of that business,” Canady said. “It’s too early to say if there would be an increase (in alcohol-related issues) immediately, but officers are always aware of places that do serve alcohol and the potential dangers for citizens.”
Petitioners have collected signatures at events in Burnet and Marble Falls, plan a door-to-door campaign and expect to place petitions at supportive businesses.
Petitioners have until July 10 to collect signatures, comprised of 35 percent of the Burnet County population that voted in the last gubernatorial election.