By Malcolm Butler
The citizens of the city of Ruston have an opportunity to sign a petition that would lead to a March vote on expanded sales of liquor in local grocery stores.
The Louisiana Economic Growth Committee working closely with Walmart and Brookshires Grocery Company is currently seeking signatures from registered voters within the city of Ruston. The petition began Sept. 15 and has 60 days to obtain the Louisiana state law required-minimum of 25% of the registered voters (2,454 signatures) in order to get the proposition on a ballot.
Currently Ruston stores can only sell beer and low volume wine, with less than 6 percent alcohol by volume.
Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker met with members of the media Tuesday to provide more insight and answer questions pertaining to the situation.
“I think the main thing I want to emphasize today is that this is something that gives the people of Ruston the opportunity to make the decision about what they want as far as alcohol,” said Walker.
Currently, there are three of five propositions involving alcohol sales that passed in 2002 and that are currently in place (see the five propositions below). However, the other two propositions failed in 2002, the two allowing for the sale of hard liquor in grocery stores and in bars within the city limits.
Walker has an opinion on what he feels is best for the city.
“If someone were asking me what I would want for our city it would be (propositions) 1, 2, 4 and 5 (to pass),” he said.
Many citizens may have concerns over what the passing of one or both of the additional propositions could mean for the City of Ruston. Walker stressed that while the petition process is taking place over the next two months, city officials are working diligently to be able to have ordinances in place to protect Ruston.
“We are working right now on ordinances that will help us to be able to control some of this,” said Walker. “Liquor is already highly regulated in the city of Ruston now. But we want to be sure that whatever the citizens vote for is done in a way that the city of Ruston has always been known for – that’s doing things first class in the way they should be done. We will address all of those issues after the citizens say they want to vote.”
Walker said if the 25% goal is reached that the ordinances will be presented and any additional questions will be answered during the December 5th Ruston City Council meeting. He said he felt there was no need to address them until it’s known that the citizens want to vote on the alcohol propositions.
The petition may only be signed by individuals who are registered voters within the city of Ruston, including college students. Anyone who is not registered to vote in the city of Ruston may not sign the petition. If they do, their signature would be deleted by the Register of Voters which will verify all of the signatures following the 60-day petition window.
One thing to note is that if the 25% goal is reached, the City Council must set an election date (March 25, 2023) and that all five of the alcohol propositions (even the three that passed in 2002) would go back on the ballot.
Walker said there are a number of reasons that he is in support of Propositions 1, 2, 4 and 5 passing. One of them is financial.
“The sales tax of course is an issue,” said Walker. “It will benefit not only the city of Ruston, but the Lincoln Parish Police Jury, the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office, and of course the Lincoln Parish School Board because their sales taxes are based on helping with salaries for teachers. That’s an issue, no doubt about it.
“Our city has a tax incremental district and two of the biggest grocery stores that would possibly be selling alcohol are located within that tax incremental district. That means we get 40 percent back of what goes to the state. So that would be a huge increase. And all that money has to be spent within that tax incremental district for infrastructure and things like that.”
However, there are additional reasons that Walker feels it would be good for the city of Ruston.
“I have had so many people ask us to do this for several reasons,” said Walker. “One, the convenience of being able to purchase it in Ruston. But also there has always been talk about the need for another grocery store in the city of Ruston. We have had three (separate) grocery stores look at (locating to) Ruston over the last eight years. Every one of them the first question is ‘Can we sell alcohol?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then we are not coming to Ruston and Lincoln Parish.’”
Walker said he has been in discussions with Pineville, a city that passed their liquor laws three years ago. He said he and his administrative team have learned a lot from the Pineville mayor and administrators on what they would have done differently.
“They are one of the reasons we are looking at doing some things if this passes to control it a little bit better,” said Walker. “Where things can go or not go.
“I don’t think we need 50 liquor stores in our city. So we would try to control that through possibly the size of the stores that could sell alcohol. One of the things that Pineville realized was that their zoning was not up to speed as far as being able to control where a liquor store or a bar or a daiquiri shop would go.
“So that is something that our planning and zoning (committee) and our city attorney Bill Carter are looking closely at right now so we can have a better handle on it before we get to that point. If this comes to the city council in December, after that we will be able to present to the citizens that these are the things we plan on doing to try to make this fit our city better.”
Key Issues Relating to Louisiana Local Option Alcohol Elections
60 Days allowed to circulate a petition
30 Days (not counting weekends and holidays) ROV can take to certify signatures
2,454 = 25% of Ruston active voters – number of signatures needed
2,900+ = signatures of qualified voters will be submitted to petition advocates (20% over certification – 30% of active voters)
9,814 = number of active voters in Ruston as of Sept. 14, 2022
Sept. 14, 2022 Date Petition was issued
Oct. 21, 2022 Target Date to submit petitions
Dec. 5, 2022 regular city council meeting (1st Monday of month)
Dec. 28, 2022 Last day for city to inform LA SOS an election has been ordered
March 25, 2023 Proposed Election Day
Proposition No. 1
Authority to sell beverages of alcoholic content containing not more than 6% alcohol by volume by package only and not for consumption on the premises in the city.
Passed in 2002: For 2699/Against 2053 (57 percent)
Proposition No. 2
Authority to sell beverages of alcoholic content containing not more than 6% alcohol by volume for consumption on the premises in the city.
Passed in 2002: For 2753/Against 1966 (58 percent)
Proposition No. 3
Authority to sell beverage alcohol containing one-half of 1% alcohol by volume and above for consumption on the premises in the city.
Failed in 2002: For 1708/Against 2927 (37 percent)
Proposition No. 4
Authority to sell beverage containing one half of 1% alcohol by volume and above by package only and not for consumption on the premises in the city.
Failed in 2002: For 1547/Against 3082 (33 percent)
Proposition No. 5
Authority to sell beverages of high and low alcoholic content permitted only on the premises of restaurant establishments which have been issued an “R” permit as defined by law in the city.
Passed in 2002: For 2615/Against 2071 (56 percent)