By Emma Stone
Nearly 3,300 signatures: that was the number of Ruston citizens who signed a petition to decide on expanding alcohol sales to grocery retailers last fall.
The signatures met the 2454 minimum requirement and now gives the opportunity for citizens to vote on five propositions in the upcoming election on March 25.
Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker held a town hall meeting last night to open the floor for questions and comments concerning the propositions. Despite the pre-meeting publicity surrounding the event, only an estimated 40 to 50 residents showed up for the meeting.
The five state required alcohol propositions listed at the meeting are:
Proposition 1 – CURRENTLY ALLOWED (Passed in 2002)
Grocery/convenience stores will continue to be allowed to sell low-alcohol beverages.
Proposition 2 – CURRENTLY ALLOWED (Passed in 2002)
Authority to sell beverages of alcoholic content containing not more than 6% alcohol by volume for consumption on the premises in the city.
Proposition 3 – NOT CURRENTLY ALLOWED
Authority to sell beverage alcohol containing one-half of 1% alcohol by volume and above for consumption on the premises in the city.
Proposition 4 – NOT CURRENTLY ALLOWED
Retail stores* will be allowed to sell packaged high-alcohol content beverages only for off-site consumption. (*over 15,000 square feet)
Proposition 5 – CURRENTLY ALLOWED (Passed in 2002)
Restaurants will continue to be allowed to sell both high and low-alcohol beverages.
Walker was also joined with City Attorney Bill Carter and Planning and Zoning Director Jim Hayes to introduce a new zoning plan.
The plan requires that any stand-alone bar to be constructed in Ruston must be 1,320 feet from another.
“Truly, in the entire city of Ruston, you could have three, maybe four, bars if they are strategically placed,” said Walker. “I don’t believe we will have any [bars] if this passes. But the guidelines are in place to prevent it.”
Walker detailed the possible figures for sales income to lie between $1.5 million to $1.6 million a year from liquor sales if the propositions were to pass.
The number was derived from the southern city of Pineville, which enacted the same propositions in 2018.
From 2018, Pineville received $1.2 million in sales tax income and in 2019, the income was raised to $2.298 million. 2021 profited a total of $2.68 million for Pineville. Walker outlined the process in which he and his team formed the sales income expected from the propositions passing.
“Their number showed (an)…increase each year from before they had sales in stores,” said Walker, “So, I took that and did an average based on their population, and our population which is where we got our $1.5 number.”
Harriet Jones, a Ruston citizen, spoke out about the high amount of revenue that businesses profit from liquor sales.
“It seems like to me, if there was that much money that we make in liquor sales, then the person that owns the package store would be sailing off in a yacht,” said Jones.
Restaurants are required to have 50% of their products be nonalcoholic to have an “R” permit.
“We have 19 restaurants with bars in them. The competition is just too strong for stand-alone bars, in my opinion,” said Walker. “If we have not put that rule in place, then every convenience store in our city could be a package liquor store.”
Restaurants that would be affected if the propositions did not pass would be Utility Brewing, Log Cabin, Dawghouse and most to all Mexican restaurants.
Challenges appeared as some citizens received conflicting messages about the petition.
With misinformation being spread, others expressed worry that some Ruston citizens may not show up to the polls.
However, Bill Campbell, a Ruston citizen, felt that the alcohol propositions could be a good thing.
“I think that the people who live here have the right to vote,” said Campbell. “I don’t think we want people telling us ‘We don’t like this’ or ‘We don’t favor this’, so ‘You can’t have it either.’ That is not right.”
While citizens spoke up, Walker stated that he and his team were comfortable with the zoning strategies in place.
“We have the strongest regulations of any city in the state as far as package stores and bars. We want to be sure to keep our city like it is,” said Walker.
The election date is set to March 25 and early voting takes place through Saturday. Ruston citizens can vote yes or no to any or all of the alcohol propositions.