Liquor-by-the-drink referendum approved by Sullivan Co. Commission

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Sullivan County Commission approved a resolution Thursday night that could pave the way for legalizing the sale of liquor-by-the-drink in the county.

With near-unanimous support, commissioners passed the measure which will create a referendum on whether liquor-by-the-drink should be allowed. The referendum will appear on ballots during the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Liquor-by-the-drink sales are currently prohibited in areas of Sullivan County outside Kingsport and Bristol city limits. If voters approve the measure in November, licensed businesses in areas like Piney Flats and Bluff City would be able to serve wine and liquor by the glass.

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Aside from helping existing businesses, county commissioners hope this could attract new ones.

“If it’s going to attract a bigger name-brand restaurant, then we’ve got to have this, to get them to come to our area,” said Commissioner Dwight King, who represents Piney Flats and Bluff City.

When it comes to bringing in new business, commissioners say Kingsport and Bristol have the advantage over the more rural parts of Sullivan County.

“Hotels and nice restaurants don’t like to locate out in the county because of [not allowing] liquor-by-the-drink,” said Commissioner Herschel Glover, who sponsored the resolution.

Glover said Thursday’s vote was a step towards changing this. King said it could bring development outside city limits.

“Say, like 19E or 11E, to have a convention center, restaurants, and a hotel,” he said.

The other goal, Glover said, is to create revenue for the county without raising property taxes.

Half the revenue from liquor-by-the-drink sales would go to the state. The other half would come back to Sullivan County. This revenue would be split between city and county school systems and the County’s general fund. Glover hopes this money will go to Sullivan County teachers.

“Hopefully we could use it to maybe give our teachers some raises, to get them up to the level of city teachers. And use it for some other things that we desperately need,” Glover said.

King said Bluff City is one area in desperate need of new funds.

“They’re hurting economically. They’ve lost the speed cameras, they’ve lost the junior high, it’s moving out,” he said. “So this would be a good deal for them if they could get a good restaurant to come into Bluff City.”

Under the passed resolution, only people living in Sullivan County areas outside Kingsport and Bristol city limits will vote on liquor-by-the-drink sales in November.

If voters agree then, commissioners hope businesses can start applying for liquor licenses by January 2021.

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