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County vote on liquor coming in February
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Voters in Effingham County may be able to decide in February whether they want liquor by the drink sold in restaurants.

A special referendum will be held to coincide with the Feb. 5 presidential preference primary. Because absentee ballots must be made available 45 days before the polls open, the push to get the referendum ready has been under way for some time.

“Everyone made it a real special effort to get it on February’s ballot,” said Charlie Kea of the Community Progress Council of Effingham, a group that is advocating full-service restaurants in the community.

At their Nov. 20 meeting, county commissioners approved putting a referendum on the ballot. But just when that would happen — February’s presidential primary or November’s general election — was left to the CPCE.

Kea said the group had been working with the elections board to get the referendum ready before the commissioners’ vote so they could move faster if it was approved.

Now the CPCE hopes all that legwork gives Effingham a leg up in getting full-service restaurants.

“It just changes the whole scheme of things,” Kea said. “I think it increases the chances of getting something up here tremendously.”

Proponents of full-service restaurants are worried that if action doesn’t happen fast enough, those franchises and companies will instead target the intersection of Highway 21 and I-95.

“Once they go in at 95, they won’t put another one in for 15 miles or 15 minutes (of driving time),” Kea said. “We actually have more rooftops, and that gives us an edge. It’s important we get looked at real hard.”

The CPCE will bring a similar request to the Rincon City Council at its meeting Monday. Kea is hoping the Rincon council will approve putting a referendum on the ballot, but if not, the group has been working on a petition.

“It eliminates a lot of knocking on doors and the effort our volunteers have spent on it if they approve it,” he said.

“But if not, we will continue with our petition drive.”

The group is close to getting 1,400 signatures, which according to Kea is the magic number to get the elections board to put the referendum on the ballot without council approval. The signatures must be from registered voters who voted in the last general election, he said.

A conversation with someone who was involved in the push for liquor by the drink sales in restaurants in Statesboro heartened Kea.

“They said, ‘You do not realize how important these restaurants are for the area,’” Kea said. “‘You don’t believe how they reduce taxes.’”