WHITE LAKE — Voters in White Lake will soon have to decide how they stand on a particular issue. On March 15, residents of the town will get the chance to vote for or against a referendum for the sale of beer and unfortified wine in White Lake.
The proposed referendum would fill in the gaps of a law already in existence. According to Robin Summerlin, a local real estate agent in favor of the referendum, an issue exists with the current law.
“You’ve been able to buy fortified wine at White Lake for the last 15 years,” he said. “Now we’re trying to fix it so you can buy unfortified wine and beer at all convenience stores at White Lake.”
Fortified wine has an alcohol content between 16 and 24 percent, while unfortified wine has an alcohol content less than 16 percent.
“The fact that fortified wine can be sold is because of North Carolina general statues,” explained Goldston Womble, the town’s mayor. “At one time, we had an ABC store. State law says you can sell fortified wine in ABC stores, and state law supersedes local law. The ABC referendum doesn’t allow the sale of beer or unfortified wine.”
In order to get the idea before the residents for a vote, several steps had to be taken. A request for a referendum must come from a governing body, so supporters were required to either get the local board to vote to approve the sale or request that the town’s Board of Commissioners ask the Board of Elections to hold a referendum.
Summerlin approached the White Lake Board of Commissioners with a letter requesting that they ask the Board for Elections for a referendum, and the vote was approved unanimously.
Womble stated that the Board of Commissioners didn’t vote for or against the sale of beer and unfortified wine — they simply asked the Board of Elections to hold a referendum so the residents could decide.
“If there is something that can be put in front of the town for them to make a decision, I’m comfortable with them making a decision about what they feel ought to be done,” Womble said. “I’ve been opposed to the (Board of Commissioners) making a decision, but I’m not in disagreement with giving people the right to vote. This is a democracy, that’s what we do — let people vote.”
Supporters of the referendum maintain that visitors to White Lake are going to buy beer and unfortified wine in Elizabethtown or they are going to bring it from their home anyway. They assert that White Lake might as well profit from what is already occurring.
Summerlin stated, “They’re going to buy it no matter what. They have to jump in their car to go to Elizabethtown to buy it. We just want them to buy it in White Lake rather than bringing it from 10 miles away.”
Proponents of the referendum also argue that its passage would would make conducting business easier for establishment owners, since serving beer and unfortified wine currently requires a cumbersome special use permit. Additionally, they propose that more businesses would be attracted to the area and that more visitors would come if alcohol were more readily available.
Cameron McGill, pastor at the Lake Church and resident of White Lake, foresees problems with the passing of the law.
“Making alchohol more readily available would just add to the already existent problem we have with alcohol-related incidents,” he said, citing boating accidents, drownings, abusive incidents, and violent crimes that have occurred after alcohol consumption.
Regarding the increased revenue for the town, he had this to say: “We have been given a figure that it could possibly increase revenue as much as $,2000 for the fiscal year.”
McGill also encouraged citizens to observe similar laws passed in other towns.
“In Clarkton, they passed it based on the promise that it would stimulate economy, and anyone who drives by there can see the stores. I would guess that it’s hurt the stores since people are afraid to stop there because of all the people standing around outside drinking beer.”
He said that proponents have argued that Jesus turned water to wine, but he rebuffs the assertion with the statement, “What He turned water into didn’t resemble the beer and unfortified wine that businesses want to sell here.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.