Alcohol remains a “loaded” topic for locals

When it comes to the sale of beer and wine in Henderson, what a difference a year makes! But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sales tax revenues have remained high in Henderson since April 2012, the first reporting month that included the sale of beer and wine in the city limits of Henderson.

Ordinances related to the sale of alcohol passed by large margins in the city during the Nov. 8, 2011 general election.

Proposition 1, which called for the legal sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption, passed by a full 10 percentage points — 55 percent for and 45 percent against. Proposition 2, which called for the legal sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food or beverage certificate holders, passed by an an even larger mark, with 59 percent for to 41 percent against.

Henderson City Manager Mike Barrow expressed enthusiasm for a steady uptick in sales tax revenue, citing how these funds will contribute toward strengthening the city’s infrastructure.

“Initially I think the report of expectations from the folks that lobbied in support, I think it showed that the bump in sales tax should be about $140,000,” he said. “I think they knew that that was a conservative number, and I think what we’ve really seen is $180-$200,000 a year.”

In 2012 Henderson pulled in $4,847,472 according to a report from the Texas Comptroller’s Office, an increase of 10.44 percent from 2011’s sales tax revenue of $4,388,944. Neighboring Kilgore, located in Gregg County where the sales of alcohol is already permitted, saw a marked decrease in 2012 — dropping 2.94 percent overall, or $328,212.

But many in Henderson believe the gains do not offset the many drawbacks established by this precedent.

“I think we’ve made a terrible mistake,” said Henderson native and retired schoolteacher Susan Gilbert. “I know it’s helped businesses, I’m not even talking about that, I’m talking about the moral and ethical damage this is going to bring […] I don’t think it’s something you can measure with numbers or dollars. I think we’re going to look back years from now and see that this election was when things changed — and not for the better.”

Gerry Johnson agrees, adding that not everything that benefits economically is necessarily good for a community.

“I’m sure a long time ago legalizing gambling and prostitution seemed like a good idea for Las Vegas at the time, and they’re certainly all the wealthier for it now,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s been the best thing they could’ve done.”

Stewart said he’s an itinerant minister, and he lives in Henderson when he’s not traveling to the various churches he works with. He said that he can always tell a “wet” community from a “dry” one.

“For the best example, that anyone who lives around here can see clearly, just take a drive down [U.S. Highway] 259 in Kilgore,” he said. “You got liquor stores and x-rated shops right in-between them. I’m sure they bring in money too, but there’s more important things than money.”

Henderson resident Cindy Graham said her biggest fear is that readily available beer and alcoholic drinks will have deadly consequences.

“It seems like every other day now I’m reading another story about a family torn apart by drunk driving,” she said. “I think we’re courting disaster.”

Local law enforcement officials say, while there’s certainly been no drop off in driving while intoxicated citations or arrests, there has also been no discernible increase.

“We’re not seeing an increase in [alcohol-related] arrests or citations,” said Henderson-based Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Cpl. Jesse Stewart. “The amount and severity of drunk driving incidences and wrecks have remained consistent with historical levels. Though, obviously, we do see less traffic stops and incidents related to Henderson-area residents driving to neighboring communities where the sale of alcohol is legal.”

Rusk County District Attorney Micheal Jimerson said society has gradually moved toward aggressive enforcement of alcohol related offenses, particularly DWIs

“For example, new laws like making DWI with a child passenger a felony, as well as no refusal projects have led to safer communities,” he said. “Most importantly the changes in our attitudes have decreased alcohol related offenses.”

Jimerson said the sale of beer and wine in Henderson has not changed these attitudes.

“The ultimate goal for any class of crime, especially something as needless as those crimes related to excessive consumption of alcohol is prevention,” he said. “I am proud our community is moving in that direction.”

Barrow said the City has kept up with the crime statistics and DWIs in and around Henderson and, as far as inside the city limits is concerned, there’s actually been a decrease in crime.

“We’ve seen some some increases, but we haven’t seen any kind of increase due to alcohol. DWIs are still consistent with what they were in the past,” he said. “So really from the aspect of not having stores being allowed to sell beer and wine to now being able to sell beer and wine, we really haven’t seen any change other than the new sales tax generated.”

 

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