Third time's the charm: Forge voters OK liquor

Nov. 07, 2012 @ 02:29 PM

Restaurants here soon will be able to sell liquor by the drink after voters approved a referendum on the topic by an unofficial vote of 1,232 to 1,132.

It is already legal to sell beer and wine, but not liquor or mixed drinks. The vote means establishments can apply to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission to begin selling liquor as well.

It will also mean additional funds going to city schools. Under state law, establishments selling liquor are charged a 15 percent tax on alcohol. Half the revenues from that tax go to the state; under state law the other 50 percent is returned to Pigeon Forge, but must be spent on schools inside the city.

"The real winner tonight is the Pigeon Forge community and Sevier County,” said Tim Kellar, spokesman for Forging Ahead, the group formed to campaign for LBTD. “We’re looking forward to better-funded schools, a more diverse tourism industry, and the same family-friendly atmosphere we’ve always had.

“We appreciate everyone who came out to vote, and we know everyone had the best interests of Pigeon Forge at heart. We’re excited to be able move forward in a united Sevier County," Keller said.

Ronnie Reagan, pastor of Gum Stand Baptist Church, led the opposition to liquor by the drink. He said he was satisfied that his side had done all they could to prevent the city from making what he believes is a mistake.

“It is what it is. The people voted and they’ve got what they asked for. I just hope and pray that it don’t blow up on them. I hope it works for them because we’ve all still gotta live here,” he said.

“If a drunk driver runs over my family and kills then I’ll say it wasn’t my fault I’ve never voted for liquor.”

Supporters of the measure focused on the benefit to schools, and said they wanted to give Pigeon Forge restaurants the ability to offer the same drinks available in Gatlinburg and Sevierville, where liquor was already available. Opponents said it would lead to more alcohol-related accidents and other problems, and would diminish the family atmosphere Pigeon Forge projects when it markets itself as a tourism destination.

Supporters of the referendum believed a larger turnout could turn around a total that went against them twice in the past three years during May municipal elections. That was one of the reasons they wanted to see it on the same ballot as the presidential election.

Their strategy proved correct. About 2.3 times as many people voted in this year’s referendum as did in the 2009 and 2011 elections, and that led to the slim, 100-vote margin for the pro-liquor vote.