Alcohol vote loses steam in Sawmills

Feb. 12, 2014 @ 05:44 AM

Sawmills town officials have backed away from a proposal to ask voters in November to approve alcohol sales within the town limits.

Town staff first floated the idea of a referendum at a “coffee with the council” event in January, but at the town’s annual budget retreat on Tuesday, an informal poll showed that each member of the town council was against scheduling a referendum.

The town would pay $5,000 to get a referendum on the ballot, and several council members said it wouldn't make sense to spend that much money because they didn't think the issue stood much of a chance of winning voter support.

“I’m against it,” council member Gerelene Blevins said. “I think that’s $5,000 we can use somewhere else in the town.”

Also Tuesday the town council continued to discuss the possibility of building new restrooms at Veterans Park, an issue that has been discussed since the town’s 2013-14 budget discussions. The park has a small restroom at its far edge, about a quarter-mile from where most events are held, and portable toilets in a more central location. Some town residents have pushed for a centrally located, permanent restroom, saying that’s needed for elderly people, parents of young children and the veterans who come to the park for the town’s annual Veterans Day ceremony.

Council members all said they agreed the restrooms were needed, but beyond that no definite decisions were made. Wilson and others said the cost was an issue because the town does not own Veterans Park but leases it from Duke Energy.

“People around here have a problem with spending money on land that’s not titled to the Town of Sawmills,” Wilson said. “I’m not against them, but I can’t see spending $100, $200,000 on them.”

But Wesson objected that the town has “put off” decisions about the bathrooms.

“We’ve got veterans that can’t even come to the ceremony down there because some are saying, 'No, we don’t want to spend a little money on you,'” Wesson said.

Council members also discussed road-resurfacing priorities for 2014-15 and addressed another issue that first arose during last year’s budget discussions: taking ownership of Elmore Drive.

Last year, residents of Elmore Drive petitioned town leaders to take over their privately owned street. The council members said they’d take up the issue when 2014-15 budget discussions began. Tuesday, though, three of the five town council members said they were against taking ownership of the road. (There was no opposition to the other resurfacing project proposed, on the town-owned Kendell Place.)

Sawmills does not take over roads that don’t meet the standards set forth in its ordinances, and for Elmore Drive to meet those standards, it would require renovations estimated at $70,000. Residents have said they cannot pay that cost and have asked the town to shoulder it – but several council members said Tuesday it would not be fair for the town to pay for the improvements.

Council member Trena McRary Kirby said town-owned streets in need of resurfacing should take priority.

“This is taking away from the people we’ve already committed to,” she said. “It’s pushing them all back.”