Church Hill liquor petition receives mixed reactions at polls

Paul and Anne DeCoste gather signatures for a liquor-by-the-drink referendum. David Grace photo.

CHURCH HILL — Church Hill alderman candidate Anne DeCoste and her husband Paul spent the city’s election day Tuesday outside the Church Hill Middle School voting precinct gathering signatures for a local liquor-by-the-drink referendum.Although the reaction from voters was mixed, as of 2:30 p.m. they had acquired 74 new signatures Tuesday, bringing the total up to about 180. Paul DeCoste said he was going to continue seeking signatures to be sure they acquire the minimum 163 registered voter signatures needed to get the Church Hill referendum on the Nov. 6 election ballot.Decoste said he felt seeking signatures outside the voting precinct would be the best way to ensure he’s getting legitimate registered voters. Not everyone he approached was in favor of the cause, however.“We’ve had it both ways,” Paul Decoste told the Times-News Tuesday. “We had some people who wanted to rant ‘if you like it so much and those (liquor by the drink) places, why don’t you go live there’. Other people, we barely get the words out of our mouth and they’re like, ‘we heard about that, where do we sign’.“Mostly its been very, very positive — about 95 percent positive.”According to Hawkins County Elections Administrator Donna Sharp there are five state-approved liquor related petitions circulating in Hawkins County attempting to have the question determined by voters in the Nov. 6 election.There is one each in Mount Carmel and Church Hill because their municipal populations are too large to be including in another petition which would affect the rest of the county.There are also two petition circulating in Rogersville seeking both liquor by the drink and package stores. If the countywide referendum failed, Rogersville would have a second chance with its own independent referendum. Also, neither the county nor any other towns have package store petitions circulating.Paul DeCoste said his goal is to entice family restaurants into the city.“We have to build our business tax base, because that’s the best way to keep our property taxes down,” DeCoste said. “If we can get some chain restaurants to locate, then possibly ancillary businesses would come in, and we’re finally going to see some much needed commercial growth in our area.”The county liquor by the drink referendum was started by county Commissioner John Metz who noted that no major restaurant chains will consider a location in Hawkins County because a significant portion of their profits come form the sale of wine and cocktails with meals — which is prohibited there.“He (Metz) said it all when he said, if approved the Hawkins County Commission will establish sales guidelines that aren’t already covered by the state, such as what type of businesses can serve liquor and wine,” DeCoste said. “This eliminates the undesirables. We don’t need taverns. We need family type restaurants, and the businesses that might be established supply them.”DeCoste added, “The people who come to nice restaurants and have a drink with dinner aren’t out causing mayhem on our public streets.”Anyone wishing to sign the Church Hill petition can call the Decostes at 357-3552.