Benton County voters will soon get to vote on the whether or not alcohol can be sold in Benton County. “They say Benton County is the driest wet county,” Tom Ginn, Bentonville/ Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce Vice-President of Economic Development said.
Benton County has been dry for nearly 60 years. The last time alcohol was legal was in the 1940s. According to the group Keep Dollars in Benton County the last vote on alcohol in Benton County was in 1944.
The initiative to make retail sales of alcohol legal started by Keep Dollars in Benton County on Feb. 13.
According to the Benton County Clerks Office, 41,117 signatures or 38 percent of registered voters are required. The Benton County Clerk’s Office has reported that around 56, 000 signatures were submitted. The signatures are in the process of being verified. As of Sunday 42,250 signatures have been verified
Proponents of the bill claim that it will be an increase in tax revenue to Benton County. Restaurants that sell alcohol are currently listed as private clubs, Ginn said. According to a study done by the University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic research there are an estimate 127 private clubs in Benton County.The same study says that if Benton County had been wet in 2010, residents would have spent nearly $78 million on alcohol. This would have resulted in an additional $1.4 million in sales tax.
According to Keep Dollars in Benton County if the measure passes it will create around 540 jobs in different sectors across Benton County. The proposal has gained some influential backers including Stueart and Tom Walton according to Keep Dollars in Benton County.
The issue of a dry county is not unique in the state of Arkansas to Benton County. According to the U of A study, 40 of Arkansas’ 75 counties are dry. Out of those 40, 30 allow alcohol sales through private clubs similar to the way Benton County does.
Even if the bill passes alcohol sales may be prohibited or restricted by city ordinance, Ginn said. The position of the chamber of commerce has always been to back the initiative and let the people vote on the issue, Ginn said. Voters in Benton County will head to the polls on Nov. 6 to decide.