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Wringing Out the Issue

Wet county? Dry county? Currently, we are what some consider a "damp county". And we can change that, for the better.

Let me start out by saying this has nothing to do with the actual alcohol being sold. Sure, the convenience it would provide people who partake in the adult beverage would be increased exponentially, but for now I'm simply looking at it from an economic standpoint. As most issues like this go, it won't be the solution that saves us all, but it's a starting point and a way to begin the discussion.

As a business owner, and former pizza delivery driver, I have had my share of interactions with out-of-towners. One of the most consistent and baffling discoveries they make while visiting our great city is that being a "dry county" is still a thing. Reactions have ranged from timid scoffs at the inability to run to the gas station for a beer, to very verbal utter confusion that we have to drive 20 miles to grab some gin to be paired with our tonic.

Russellville is notorious for not always being open to change. But sometimes, change is good. Take for example the decision to sell lottery tickets that was voted on and then approved in 2009. A big issue of the highest drama, introducing what some considered a less-than way of life to our family friendly city. What has it done? Well, it's provided students across the state with 235,000 scholarships- 4,905 in Pope County alone. "While budgeting for $80.9 million, the lottery actually made $85,277,000 in total proceeds for fiscal year 2016-2017, a difference of more than $4.3 million."

Now, alcohol sales and lottery tickets are obviously vastly different beasts, but the lessons learned from this can be similar. Something that people think will make their hometown go down the drain has actually improved that very hometown. In the case of lottery tickets it was improved by helping college goers to become more intelligent and productive members of society. Who knows? Maybe one of those scholarships will provide an environment for the next Elon Musk, right here in Russellville. Maybe not, but if there's a possibility then we should foster that. For one Russellville resident, Brittany Pickens, the scholarship led to her acquiring 3 degrees, including a Master's, when she originally thought college wasn't even an option for her.

Alcohol sales on the other hand will hit a different aspect. The quality of life.

And by this I don't mean people who drink have better lives. I mean that keeping money in our local businesses helps enhance our local lives.

One way to increase quality of life? Create incentives for redevelopment, and encourage more investment in the community. Making it easier for interested businesses and developers to consider us can help the community’s long-term priorities and revenue. How do we help with those incentives? One of many ways includes being a wet county.

David Lang, general manager of Embassy Suites in Rogers stated that "Arvest Ballpark, the home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, which opened in 2008, was built in Springdale because Washington County was wet". Plus, Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers, which opened in 2014, “wouldn’t have been in Northwest Arkansas if we had been a dry county."

More economic opportunity. Who can be against that? With more economic opportunity and investment there will be more options for your family to enjoy the city they call home. Once again keeping money here to be cycled back through the places run by our neighbors and friends who put that money into the community. A sort of positive feedback loop for local life.

For those worried about an increase in drunken behavior, Clark County Judge Ron Daniel stated that “legalizing alcohol sales didn’t start people drinking more. It just makes it more convenient for those who do." Clark County residents no longer have to drive through dry Hot Spring County to Garland County to buy their liquor. “We used to have a lot of wrecks, kids and everyone else going from here and Hot Springs, but that has cut down tremendously,” Daniel said. Will there still be drunken behavior and wrecks? Most likely. But it may help cut it down if folks don't have to go to a restaurant (or different county) to drink when they can just stay at home and do so safely and responsibly.

To break it down as uncontroversial as possible- we want to keep local money local. Pope County residents are already spending the money, we simply want to reroute that money from a neighboring county to our own. That's all. We love our community and we want to see it thrive in any way we can. If that means bringing in some liquor stores, then so be it.

Alderman Nathan George commented on the possibility of bringing in sales from alcohol. "From a financial standpoint alcohol sales are not the holy grail of fixing the loss of revenue in the city. However, the change from dry to wet could be an additional step in increasing other revenue streams. Sales tax from tourism, recruiting industry, and keeping people spending their money in our city are just a few benefits. The city would need to promote the opportunities after the change (if it occurs) to see an increase in those areas", George said.

Who knows, we may even be able to allocate some of the sales tax from alcohol sales to support community programs. (Literally, who knows? Cause I certainly don't.) There are pros and cons. There are this's and that's. But mostly there's opportunity. And every city should at least entertain, if not embrace, opportunities that come their way.

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