Washington County voters say yes to liquor sales

WASHINGTON COUNTY – A measure to change Washington County’s status from a dry county to allow for the sale of liquor passed on Friday.

Voters first decided on whether to allow the sale of wine and intoxicating liquors and then on the method of sale, selecting from “by package only” or “by package and by drink.”

Preliminary results show 66.35  percent of voters voted yes to the sale of liquor, while 71 percent chose both package and by drink as the preferred method of sale.

Local resident Adam Smith says the results mean Washington County will have more opportunities for economic growth.

“Holmes County, or even Jackson, does not have the economic drivers that Washington County has because it all revolves around the beach boom and the new airport, which will spill directly into Washington on the north end within 10 years, as well as the main arteries to the beach primarily run through Washington from Alabama,” said Smith. “Google Maps literally takes you through Chipley to the beach from Dothan as a shorter route. Also, Chipley has the FDOT District headquarters, which brings a lot of the engineering and construction industry into the area. Not to mention land is abundant and cheaper than Bay. As prices continue to rise in Bay, people will sell and move north. I watched the same happen in South Florida. Washington County is simply a prime area for growth and new industry.”

Caleb Duncan, director of the West Florida Baptist Association, says he is disappointed in the election results.

“It looks like the citizens of Washington County have decided that economic gain is more important than the moral cost when it comes to passing an alcohol referendum in our county,” said Duncan. “I think that’s a tragic thing when we looked at the economic situation and let it override the moral consequences. If economic gain is the main focus when we are voting, then we have a flawed of systems of ethics.”

Resident Mark Odom says he’s relieved the vote is finally over, regardless of how anyone voted.

“The people spoke on the issue by ballot,” said Odom. “I respect both sides. and the issue is polarizing to many. History has shown Prohibition caused more alcohol and more lawlessness. Prohibition is and always was an illusion. This county has never been dry. People will exercise their free will and we have to be strong enough to accept that everyone doesn’t do it any one way. Do I think this solves all of our problems? Absolutely not but, it is another brick in the wall. It will generate tax dollars that used properly will pay for much needed infrastructure in our cities and county, infrastructure that is required to handle new businesses and homes.”

The number of “bottle store” locations allowed to sell alcohol is limited by population at one license for every 7,500 residents. With the last U.S. Census data showing Washington County as having a population of approximately 24,896, that would mean no more than three licenses available for stores.

Restaurants that derive more than 51 percent of revenue from food sales and have available seating for 150 or more in at least 2,500 square ft. may obtain a special license to sell beer, wine, and liquor for consumption on premise. Other factors, such as zoning requirements and a 500-ft. setback from schools, will also apply.

The time leading up to Friday’s election was filled with several obstacles, including a printing error that resulted in the need for the mailing of a second, corrected ballot to county voters, as well as two lawsuits brought by a local resident challenging the legality of the election due to the petitions being presented to the Board of County Commissioners 159 days after their certification, rather than within the 120-day time frame required by law. Both lawsuits were ultimately dismissed by Chief Circuit Judge Christopher Patterson.

Voter turnout was 30.78 percent for the election with 5,154 ballots being returned from the county’s 16,747 eligible voters. 

The vote now leaves Lafayette and Liberty counties as Florida’s only remaining dry counties.