Erath County group asks voters to support alcohol sales changes

E-T staff report
An Erath County group is seeking petition signatures to get alcohol sales regulation changes put on the November 2021 ballot for voters to decide.

A group of Erath County citizens has announced the launch of a petition campaign to gather more than 4,400 signatures of local voters to support balancing alcohol sales regulations for all of Erath County, according to a news release from the Economic Growth Committee.

In addition to supporting restaurants throughout the county, organizers said the group supports expansion of current alcohol sales to include fine wine and package stores.  The group consists of residents as well as business and community leaders.

"We are asking Erath County registered voters to sign a petition to call for an election next November 2021," the release states.

If enough signatures are gathered, the petition would allow a vote for the legal sale of all alcoholic beverages including mixed beverages in Erath County. 

The biggest reason the group is seeking the change is that in order to sell alcohol, restaurants are required to operate as private clubs, which can be costly, according to the Texas Restaurant Association. 

“It can cost between $3,000 to $20,000 a year to be a private club, according to the Texas Restaurant Association," said Court Cole, owner of Bull Nettle Bar & Grill, in the release. "These bureaucratic and red-tape fees don’t create one new job or generate any tax revenue for the city. It just increases the cost of business that restaurants like Chili’s or Bull Nettle have to pay.”

The petition also calls for an election to allow fine wine and spirit sales in package stores such as Spec's or Total Wine. Based on a 2008 study by Texas Economist Ray Perryman, Erath County would see a significant increase in sales, jobs and local tax revenue, the release states.

“Based on our population, studies show we could be gaining as much as $10 million a year in additional sales, nearly 100 new jobs and generate another $200,000 in local sales tax revenue," said Brady Pendleton, local attorney and member of the Stephenville City Council, in the release. "Changing this law could be a great benefit to our community.”

“All we are asking for is a level playing field for restaurants. Complying with private club rules is burdensome on the company and confusing to our customers. We appreciate those willing to sign the petition, so voters can decide the issue next November," said Aubrey Batten, managing partner at the Stephenville Chili’s.

The U.S. Census Bureau places Erath County’s population at 42,698. Based on the calculations of a 25,000-population entity, the county taxing entities currently receives as much as $22.4 million in annual sales and more than $522,000 in local tax revenues because of being "partially wet."

However, the county’s dry status for spirits (package liquor sales) and removing the private club rules for on-premise establishments, the local tax revenues could increase as much as $10 million in annual spending, nearly 100 more jobs and another $210,000 in local sales tax revenues — a near 40% increase in alcohol-related tax revenue, according to the news release.

State law requires the group to gather approximately 4,400 signatures of registered Erath County voters by June 4. Only those who live in Erath County are eligible to sign the petition. If enough signatures are gathered, the Erath County Commissioners Court will be required to order the election for Nov. 2, 2021, the release states.

Anyone wishing to sign the petition can do so at the following supporting businesses: Chili’s, Bull Nettle Bar and Grill, and Hearsay Wine Bar.

The group has hired Texas Petition Strategies of Austin to conduct the petition drive and election campaign. TPS has conducted more than 450 local option ballot propositions in more than 250 Texas communities.