Liquor by the drink referendum pushed by Sullivan Co. Commissioners

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Approving liquor by the drink sales may be on the November ballot for some Sullivan County voters.

If voters approve the measure, licensed businesses within the county would be allowed to serve glasses of wine and liquor. Current law only allows for liquor by the drink to be sold at businesses within Kingsport and Bristol city limits.

At the Sullivan County Commission’s Thursday meeting, Commissioner Hershel Glover introduced the resolution. Co-sponsoring commissioners include Joyce Crosswhite, Dwight King, and Mark Hutton.

The resolution will have its first reading at the Commission’s February meeting. If approved, a referendum will be held in November for Sullivan County residents living outside Kingsport and Bristol city limits to vote on.

Commissioners sponsoring the resolution believe liquor sales tax revenue would benefit county schools and encourage economic development.

The resolution comes in wake of several major nearby development projects being on the horizon, including a possible casino in Bristol.

“It would arguably help spur development in the form of restaurants and hotels,” said Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street. “And the argument goes that hotels and restaurants that want to locate in Sullivan County, do not locate outside of Bristol and Kingsport for that very reason. Because they can’t serve wine or alcohol.”

Current businesses located in the county, but outside Bristol and Kingsport, say they would also benefit.

April Rhodes, manager at Pardner’s Bar-B-Que in Piney Flats, said the restaurant’s sales would increase if they could sell alcohol.

“There’s a lot of restaurants here in Piney Flats,” said Rhodes. “But we [also] compete with Johnson City and Bristol. A lot of the restaurants in Bristol and Johnson City have the ability to sell alcoholic beverages.”

Ash Amar, owner of Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant in Piney Flats, agreed.

“I could have wine,” he said. “Not a full bar, but at least wine and beer. It would help me with my business too.”

Street said he was unsure of how approving liquor by the drink sales would impact Bluff City in particular.

“Bluff City is a municipality. I don’t know if the vote would include Bluff City or not,” he said.

If Sullivan County adopts liqour by the drink, Street said half the tax revenue would come back to Sullivan County.

“And half of that, which is 25 percent of the total amount, is used for Sullivan County Schools, including City Schools,” said Street. “Schools stand to gain a huge percentage of tax revenue from this.”

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