Residents may push to turn Independence County wet

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – History may soon repeat itself.

Sharp County voted more than a year ago to allow the sale of alcohol. Seeing how much support that particular proposal got from voters has now raised hope for another county looking to go wet.

A meeting is scheduled Thursday to see how much support exists to turn Independence County wet. Phillip Finch, the man behind this effort, said it's not about making alcohol more available; instead, it's about helping out a place that he said has had its fair share of economic setbacks lately.

Finch, a retired pilot, said his phone has not quit ringing during the past few weeks. People have apparently been calling him repeatedly to share their support for turning the county wet and tapping a new source of revenue.

"I think if we can get it on the ballot, it will pass not because I think people want easy access to alcohol," he said. "I think it's a budgetary issue. It's a lot of money going to counties that surround us that should stay in Independence County."

Finch said he will not gain anything from seeing alcohol sales become legal in the county except for the satisfaction knowing that the revenue could bring some more economic security to the area. During the past year, he's worried about this more and more after numerous job losses in Batesville, the failure of an economic development sales tax as well as budget shortfalls.

Finch said he was surprised to see how overwhelmingly Sharp County voters supported the wet issue in November 2012, and it has given him hope that Independence could do the same. He has already sought out the people who got the issue passed in Sharp, and said that they have offered their help to him.

"We hope to use their lessons learned and getting it on the ballot here in six months. If we don't have it on this November's ballot, we have to wait two more years," he said.

"This is an election that has to be done at a general election," he added. "It can't be done during a special [election]."

Finch also plans to seek advice when it comes to crafting the ballot measure and setting up the petitioning process. To get the issue on the ballot, people have to collect signatures from 38 percent of the county's registered voters. Independence County currently has 19,067 registered voters, so supporters will have to get more than 7,200 people to sign the petitions once they're drawn up.

He admits that this will take a lot of effort, but believes it can be done by November if there's enough people interested in supporting the cause.

"If we can have the initiative written up ready to go to the people that are going to go knock on doors by April," Finch said, "then that gives us basically three months to get it done."

He imagines that the opposition will mount quickly to fight to keep the county dry, just as it did in Sharp County in 2012. Many voters, however, are already sharing their excitement for the proposal.

"Benefit number one is that the tax dollars go to us, and we can use them in our community instead of other people's," Megean Oliver of Batesville said.

"I think that it would be a good revenue to build the city back, and it's something we desperately need," Shawn Campbell of Batesville added. "Right now that's the only factor that I see that could help us do that."

Finch has set up a meeting on Thursday, January 9, at 7 p.m. at Josie's Restaurant in Batesville. He asks anyone that would like to learn more about the proposal or how they can help get it passed to attend the meeting.

"If we get interest, then we'll go forward," he said. "If not, then maybe Independence County isn't ready."

If someone is unable to attend the meeting Thursday, contact Finch directly at 870-613-3046.

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