Loudon liquor store vote passes

City against measure, but council decides who gets license

Hugh G. Willett, knoxnews.com

It will take more than the passage of a liquor store referendum to bring liquor stores to Loudon County.

Despite the 10,880-to-8,203 countywide vote in favor of the referendum to allow package liquor stores, the decision of just who gets a license to sell liquor and at what location is up to the Loudon City Council.

At a City Council workshop Monday, it was clear that there was some division on the council over whether the city really wants a liquor store. The majority of city residents voted against the referendum, said Councilman Charlie Garner.

"County people should not have the right to dictate to us," Garner said.

A large number of votes in favor of the referendum came from Tellico Village, Garner pointed out. "I'd like to see two or three liquor stores out in Tellico Village, if that's what they want," he said.

The wording of the state liquor laws makes the city of Loudon the only place in the county where a liquor store can operate, said city manager Lynn Mills.

State law provides that a city with a population equal to or greater than the population of the smallest county in the state must hold its own liquor store referendum. Moore County has the smallest population in the state at 5,470, according to the 2000 census.

Lenoir City, the largest municipality in the county with a population of 6,819 in 2000, was required to hold its own referendum. Voters in Lenoir City rejected the Nov. 4 referendum by a narrow margin, 1,199 to 1,149.

The city of Loudon, with a population in 2000 of 4,476, which is less than Moore County, could not hold its own referendum and is subject to the countywide referendum.

The other two municipalities in Loudon County are Philadelphia, population 533, and Greenback, population 954. They are prohibited from having liquor stores by state law, which does not permit a municipality of fewer than 1,000 to allow liquor stores.

A district within the county limits would need a population of 30,000 to qualify for its own license.

That would leave the city of Loudon as the only municipality in the county where a liquor store could operate. In last week's referendum, voters in the city of Loudon voted 886 to 755 not to allow liquor stores in the county.

Voters in Tellico Village, which cannot have a liquor store because the area is not incorporated, voted overwhelming in favor of the referendum. Tellico Village supplied more than 4,000 of the approximately 10,000 votes cast countywide in favor of liquor stores.

"I've had two or three calls from people out in Tellico Village that are upset about this," said Mills.

Ed Bell, the Loudon County banker who backed the referendum and collected signatures to have it put on the ballot, said he plans to apply for a license. "I worked hard for four years to get this passed," he said.

Bell, who pointed out that he was not promoting the consumption of alcohol, predicted that in two years Lenoir City will pass the referendum. "If Loudon has it, Lenoir City wants it too," he said.

The county is losing out on tax revenue that could be used to fund improvements to the schools and other infrastructure, Bell said.