ROGERSVILLE — Four separate liquor referendums in three Hawkins County cities will be decided by voters today.
Rogersville has two referendums, including one to allow the sale of liquor by the drink and one to allow package stores.
Church Hill and Mount Carmel each have referendums to allow the sale of liquor by the drink.
Opponents of the referendums including Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson have cited moral objections to alcohol use as well as a potential increase in drunk driving and the public safety issues that involves.
Supporters are hoping approval of liquor by the drink will encourage chain restaurants which offer cocktails and wine with meals to invest in Hawkins County. The goal is to increase sales and property tax revenue and decrease the tax burden on residential property owners in the cities and county.
Rogersville has experienced multiple property tax increases in recent years. City Recorder Bill Lyons told the Times-News Monday that a restaurant would help increase tax revenue, but he said it wouldn’t make a tremendous difference.
“It would be additional tax dollars, but not an overwhelming amount because most of that goes to the state,” Lyons said. “Rogersville’s population might be able to support one, maybe two new restaurants, and that’s it. That new revenue would be welcome, but it’s not going to make a big difference on the city budget.”
Lyons added, “I think the biggest impact on Rogersville would be in quality of life because we might get a couple of new places to eat. I will say I’m glad that the decision is going to be made by our voters, and if they approved it the city is going to do everything it can to encourage new restaurants to locate in our city.”
In 2010 Church Hill experienced its first property tax increase in more than a decade. City Recorder Mark Sandidge told the Times-News Monday that although his city is currently doing well economically, he knows that the city will eventually need new tax revenue to keep up with inflation.
“People who have talked to restaurants about moving into our city have said that liquor by the drink is the deal breaker that prevents them from coming here,” Sandidge said.
“We’re definitely going to need more retail development in Church Hill to stay ahead of inflation, and approving liquor by the drink eliminates one of the roadblocks preventing that from happening. Without liquor by the drink we’re automatically excluded from that type of development.”
As far as demographics and traffic volume, Sandidge said he believes Church Hill and its surrounding communities have numbers “close” to what large chain restaurants are looking for. Church Hill is still a growing bedroom community, and Sandidge said he believes residents there would support a new chain restaurant.
Mount Carmel has three aldermen slots and the mayoral seat up for grabs in today’s election.
During a candidate forum held Oct. 18, most potential leaders expressed enthusiasm for the liquor by the drink referendum as a potential avenue of new commercial development, although they acknowledged there’s limited real estate available in town for a new restaurant.