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April 7, 2013

Philadelphia voters to decide on liquor law

MERIDIAN —     PHILADELPHIA — It might surprise some to know that a Pentecostal preacher is in favor of liquor sales, but in Philadelphia, where the mayor is also a pastor, that is the case.

    Mayor James Young, the first African-American mayor in the Neshoba County seat, said he favors allowing liquor sales in Philadelphia, where it could become legal following a June vote.

    A group of Philadelphia residents has succeeded in getting the measure put on the ballot at the same time that city elections are scheduled.

    Young, who is also pastor of Calvary Apostolic Church in Louisville, said while he does not intend to ever purchase alcohol himself. The issue to him is one of economic development.

    "I think we are missing some opportunities for some upper level restaurants by not making alcohol sales available," Young said. "We are not going to get any of the next level restaurants if we don't have this available to them. I don't drink but I do like good food."

    Neshoba County is dry, but beer sales are allowed in Philadelphia. If the measure passes, it will be up to the mayor and board of aldermen to decide whether alcohol could be sold in restaurants only or if liquor stores would also be allowed to open. In any case, the vote will only affect establishments inside the city limits. It will be decided by a vote by city residents only.

    "Moving our city forward is what we're trying to do," Young said. "I'm a mayor to everyone in this city; those who drink and those who do not."

    Local attorney Jeremy Chalmers has been at the forefront of efforts to get the initiative on the ballot. Chalmers said they took advantage of a new law on the books in Mississippi, passed in the 2012 session, that allows cities to call for a referendum on liquor sales, if the county it is in is dry. Previously it would have had to have been a vote open to all of the county, even if the measure would only affect the city.

    Chalmers led a successful petition drive, Philadelphia for a Vote, getting a little more than 1,000 signatures of registered voters in the city. The petition asks that an election be called on the question of whether or not the sale and possession, and the receipt, storage and transportation for the purpose of sale and possession of alcoholic beverages shall be permitted in Philadelphia.

    "We are not telling anyone what to do," Chalmers said. "We want people to be able to vote on this."

    Chalmers agrees that allowing liquor sales, particularly in restaurants, would be beneficial to the community.

     "It doesn't make sense to me to limit a proprietor's ability to offer alcohol for sale," Chalmers said, noting that casinos in Neshoba County, Silver Star and Golden Moon, are already allowed to serve alcohol.

    Chalmers said the money is already flowing outside of the city and county for alcohol purchases from nearby counties that allow alcohol sales. Keeping alcohol sales inside the city will bring in much-needed tax dollars for schools, roads, police and fire protection, he said.

    The measure will be on the June 4 election ballot, when city elections are scheduled. Chalmers said they could have called for a special election at a different time, but chose not to in order to keep down election expenses to the city.

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