Sumiton Sunday alcohol sales referendum set for Tuesday

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SUMITON - While many are focused on the Nov. 3 General Election, Sumiton voters will go Tuesday, Oct. 20, to finally decide the issue of Sunday alcohol sales in the city. 

Voters will go to the Sumiton City Council meeting chamber from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to decide the issue, with the results to be posted on the door afterward. 

Due to the referendum, the city council will meet Monday at 9 a.m., as it normally would meet Tuesday. 

City Clerk Nina Absher said while voters are not required to wear masks, they are encouraged to do so anyway due to the pandemic. Poll workers will wear masks, and social distancing will be encouraged as well. Items such as pens and tables will be sanitized throughout the day due to combat coronavirus. 

Secretary of State John Merrill has indicated that similar procedures can be expected with the Nov. 3 election. 

Absher said with some events cancelled due to the pandemic and other events attracting large crowds, it is hard to guess what type of a turnout will come for the referendum. 

Sumiton Mayor Petey Ellis said Monday, "The resolution (on the Sunday alcohol sales) is basically the same thing that Jasper passed. It's just copied from that." 

In Jasper,  alcohol sales on Sunday are not allowed until noon, which is what Ellis said is the intention in Sumiton. State-run liquor stores are closed on Sunday. 

If the vote is positive, Ellis was not sure whether the city would have to go through the Legislature to put Sunday sales in effect. According to a 2019 report in AL.com, state law prohibits selling alcoholic beverages after 2 a.m. on Sunday except when authorized by a separate law.

A 2019 state act allows local county commissions or municipalities within a wet county to permit and regulate Sunday sales for alcohol through resolutions or ballot referendums without first having to go through the Legislature. However, Walker County is a dry county which has some wet cities. 

The question that will be on the ballot is, "Do you favor the legal sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages within this municipality on Sundays?"

Ellis said local businesses asked for the referendum. 

"The merchants had requested we give them that opportunity, plain and simple. I said, 'We'll let the people vote on a referendum and let the people decide, and be done with it,'" he said. 

He said he has not taken sides on the issue and didn't know of any council members who have taken a position on it. 

"I couldn't speak on whether it would help or hurt their business. They seem to think it will help their business," he said.

Ellis has not seen estimates on how much money could be raised with Sunday sales. "You are talking four hours one day a week, so I don't know," he said, adding he didn't think it would be a great amount.

The date for the referendum has been a moving target since last year, due to election schedules and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Last year, the council thought the Sunday alcohol vote could be included on the March 3 presidential primary election. That idea proved to be problematic because some of the people who would vote in that election do not live within the city limits. Officials said the alcohol vote needed to involve Sumiton citizens exclusively. 

The referendum was moved to Feb. 11. However, city officials found setting up a separate municipal referendum so close to the March 3 primary also turned out to be difficult for election officials to keep track of two schedules of deadlines and activities so close to each other. 

Officials decided to wait until after the March 3 presidential primary and a potential runoff election on March 31. The city decided to hold the special Sunday alcohol election on Tuesday, April 14. However, the primary runoff was postponed to July and the referendum  was postponed again, both as the coronavirus were leading to closings in the spring. The council eventually decided to wait until after the Aug. 25 municipal elections and the potential runoff on Oct. 6.  

Sumiton will join a trend set a few years ago. By 2018, Jasper voted overwhelmingly for Sunday alcohol sales. By that point, Carbon Hill, Cordova and Dora had already agreed to sales of alcohol on Sundays.