By Allen Turner
Columbus County Manager Mike Stephens was asked Monday night by Commissioner Edwin Russ to look into the procedure for allowing the sale of beer for off-premises consumption in unincorporated areas of the county. Stephens promised to research the matter and report back to commissioners.
Such beer sales currently are legal in seven of the county’s 10 municipalities but not in unincorporated areas.
“I have been approached by several people wanting countywide beer sales,” said Russ, without naming anyone who had broached the subject with him.
“I’ll check on it,” Stephens replied, referring to the procedure that would be necessary under state law to legalize such sales. The discussion came during the “commissioners’ comments” portion on Monday’s county commission meeting.
Ricky Bullard was the only commissioner other than Russ to weigh in on the subject. “I won’t support it,” he said. “It would be a controversial issue.”
Russ said after the meeting that he didn’t bring the matter up because he necessarily favors countywide beer sales but did so because some of his constituents had asked. “My district extends all the way to Riegelwood,” Russ said, “and Lake Waccamaw is the closest place for them to buy beer in the county, so some of them asked me about the possibility of allowing it closer to home for them. That’s why I brought it up, because some of the people I represent asked me to.”
For such beer sales to happen, voters would have to approve the idea in a referendum.
The last time such a vote occurred here was 15 years ago, when voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal by a three-to-one margin. According to Columbus County Elections Director Carla Strickland, the referendum was voted down 2,587 to 879 in 2003.
The N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission says that sales currently are allowed in Columbus County for off-premises consumption of malt beverages (beer) and unfortified wine in the towns of Brunswick, Chadbourn, Fair Bluff, Lake Waccamaw and Tabor City, with sale for on-premises consumption also permitted at hotels, motels and restaurants in Chadbourn, Fair Bluff and Tabor City. In Bolton and Whiteville such sales are allowed for both on-premises and off-premises consumption. The other towns in the county – Boardman, Cerro Gordo and Sandyfield – do not permit any beer or wine sales.