From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --
Today is payday in Barrow. But unless they planned ahead, residents in the North Slope city of 4,200 people can’t stop and buy a six pack of beer on the way home.
For now, Barrow has no liquor store.
That could change after Tuesday, when voters will be asked if they want to allow the city to own and operate its own package store. Read a sample ballot here.
If approved, Barrow adults who pass a background check and obtain a city permit will be able to buy booze from a local retailer for the first time since at least 1997, according to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
The question, placed on the ballot by voter petition, has ignited an age-old debate in the city.
A Facebook group called “Vote No” has more than 200 members who post photos of loved ones hurt by alcohol and handmade posters that read “alcohol kills.” I’m still reporting on what one member of the opposition group has described as efforts to pull the question from the ballot altogether.
If the liquor store proposal passes, Barrow will eventually do away with its current alcohol distribution center, Mayor Bob Harcharek said today. That means that if you wanted to legally obtain alcohol in the city, you’d have to buy it from the city-run store.
(Currently, eligible residents have a limited amount of alcohol shipped to the distribution center. But before they can actually take it home they pay the city a $25 “handling fee,” plus 3 percent of the cost of alcohol.)
If you live in Barrow and want to talk about the proposal, let me know. How do you plan to vote? What do you see as the potential drawbacks or benefits of shuttering the distribution center only to open a liquor store?
Do you remember the city running a liquor store back in the 1970s? Were things better or worse back then?
And if you live in Kotzebue, let us know how the city-run liquor store is working out in your city. (Like Kotzebue, Barrow would create a local alcohol control board to hammer out details of local liquor sales, the mayor said.)
Call me at (907) 257-4334 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opening a store is meant to deter binge drinking, because people would only be allowed to buy, say, a bottle of hard liquor a day instead of bringing home several bottles at once from the shipping center, Harcharek said.
The existing monthly limits on booze – six bottles of hard liquor per month – would remain, he said.
“If the package store opens, they’ll only be allowed one bottle of whiskey and one case of beer a day until they’ve reached their limits,” he said.
Veronica Faith Enlow, who is a member of the group opposed to the store, said members of the city council have been making the same argument. She doesn’t buy it and said so at a recent public meeting, she said.
“I said, if you’re so concerned about the binge drinking, then why don’t you just vote it to go dry,” Enlow said.
The mayor said the city council went into executive session at a recent meeting and emerged to remove the question from the ballot. But the city's lawyers later said the move was beyond the council's authority, he said, and voters will still choose whether to allow the store Tuesday.
Among the questions I have: If the vote passes and the city becomes the only legal retailer of alcohol -- meaning you couldn't order it from Anchorage or Fairbanks shops -- how much will the city charge? Will their be a cap on prices?
How much does the city expect to make in revenue from the store and how will that money be used? Meantime, Has operating a store helped Kotzebue pay for city services like public safety?
Let me know what you think.