The Committee for Growth was formed in 2017 with the goal of retaining the significant revenue that is leaving Polk County for the purchase of alcohol. “It was evident that a trip to Garland County, Sebastian County or Oklahoma to buy alcohol deprived Polk County of spending for meals, gasoline, groceries, entertainment and necessities as well. It is estimated the expenditures on such a trip could easily reach $150 and usually more. We recognized the potential for jobs, new businesses and tax revenue were being lost,” shared Rick Chrisman with the organization.
Several restaurants and clubs have navigated the cumbersome and expensive regulations to legally serve beer, wine and mixed drinks. However, their location in a dry county presents a significant disadvantage. “These establishments must pay higher prices to purchase their alcohol at retail outlets in other counties, travel to pick up inventory and aren’t allowed to advertise the availability of alcohol at their businesses,” explained Chrisman.
According to Chrisman, preparation for a ballot petition drive for 2018 fell short. In an effort to better prepare for 2020 the Committee visited other dry counties to learn from their successes to become wet. “A major challenge to a successful campaign is the percentage of registered voters needed for a successful petition. Most ballot initiatives only require 15 percent of registered voters to sign. However, for an alcohol petition an unreasonable 38 percent is required. We also learned that liquor distributors oppose and will advertise negatively against dry counties,” shared Chrisman. Regardless of these difficulties the Committee believed the potential benefits were worth the hard work.
The petition campaign preparations were complete in March of 2020 with volunteers and a proven plan in place. Then COVID19 stalled the start up for three months with restrictions and uncertainty. Reluctantly, the Committee decided in June to make an effort relying on drive through and permanent business locations for signing. While showing some success, this method alone would not provide the remaining 3,000 plus signatures in the final three weeks of “It was unrealistic to continue,” added Chrisman.
Though disheartened by this year’s outcome, Chrisman shared that the Committee will remain in place. “elect new officers and provide seed money to start again in 2021. Assuming the easing of state health restrictions and sufficient volunteers there will be approximately 18 months to canvass the county for the required signatures.