JASPER, Tenn. — The question of whether liquor by the drink will be allowed across Marion County will appear on the ballot in the November election.
On Monday, the Marion County Commission voted 12-1 to put the question to voters who live in areas where liquor by the drink is not now allowed after a request by Patrick O'Hagan, a county resident and member of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce.
O'Hagan said chamber members have recently addressed concerns about the referendum.
"I think it could increase revenue for the county, and would also give citizens outside the city limits options for their dining and beverages without having to go into the cities or having to take their money elsewhere, like Chattanooga," he said.
County Attorney Billy Gouger said there are two ways to get a question as a referendum on a ballot.
"One is by the petition method where you circulate a petition to get qualified, registered voters to sign off and submit it to the election commission," he said. "The other way is a two-thirds majority vote by [the county commission]."
Earlier this year, a petition was started to get the referendum placed on the ballot, which would have bypassed the need for the commission's consent.
County Mayor David Jackson said the petition required 600 signatures, but since the towns of South Pittsburg, Jasper, Monteagle and Kimball already had liquor by the drink, anyone living in those towns couldn't sign the petition.
"[Those residents] will also not be allowed to vote [on this referendum] on the November ballot," he said.
If approved in November, officials said not just anyone could set up a business and sell liquor anywhere in the county.
Businesses have to go through a screening process at the state level and meet a lengthy list of requirements in order to sell liquor by the drink.
Selling food and having a certain minimum number of tables at a business are among those requirements.
"There is a component of the licensing through the [Tennessee] Alcoholic Beverage Commission, too," Gouger said.
Officials said the county's beer board would have nothing to do with certifying businesses to sell liquor by the drink, and that only the state would be involved with those approvals.
"Hopefully, this would create a better business atmosphere for restaurants to come in and set up shop here in Marion County," O'Hagan said.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.