By an overwhelming margin, voters across Effingham County have approved referendums to allow liquor by the drink sales.
The referendum passed with no problem in the county and in Rincon and Springfield. The margin of victory was largest in Rincon, where yes votes garnered 70 percent of the total.
Springfield voters OK’d the proposal with nearly 60 percent of the voters in favor of it. Nearly 60 percent of voters countywide approved the referendum, with the margin opening at 58 percent to 42 percent and holding constant throughout the night.
“It just verified what we found in our original petition drive,” said Charlie Kea, president of the Community Progress Council of Effingham, which asked for the referendum to be put on the ballot. “We were glad to see it reach the numbers it did.”
Nearly half of the county’s registered 25,376 voters turned out for the referendum, held in conjunction with the presidential preference primary. There were 7,348 votes in favor of liquor by the drink in the county and 5,018 in opposition. There were 162 paper absentee ballots and elections officials had an unknown number of provisional ballots to count.
In Rincon, the vote was 911-380 in favor of the referendum and the vote was 160-102 in favor in Springfield.
“We were more surprised with the results in the county and pleased with it,” Kea said.
Supporters of the referendum said the measure would help ease the way for full-service restaurants to come to Effingham, rather than locating in west Chatham County.
Opponents, led by the Effingham Family Association, charged that it could open the door for bars to come into the county. Both sides claimed they wanted restaurants and not bars to open their doors in the county.
“The proponents of liquor have pledged that they only want restaurants, not bars and nightclubs,” said Rev. Bob Rogers, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rincon, in a statement. “Although we are concerned that it could lead to bars, I believe they are sincere in that pledge, and I hope that we can work together to ensure that we do not have bars.”
Kea’s group canvassed registered voters and found a desire for full-service restaurants — those that serve liquor by the drink — and made their push to the Rincon and Springfield city councils and the county commission.
“It was such a challenge to educate the community on the issues,” he said. “We knew people wanted restaurants. But because the issue got cloudy, we got a little concerned.”
Kea said his group had to make it clear to people it wasn’t in favor of bars and that they had to vote in two different locations Tuesday if they lived within the Rincon or Springfield city limits.
He and a group of friends who had worked on the campaign waited at Baibry’s to get the results passed back to them from the Board of Elections office.
“It kind of gives a mandate to the elected officials of what the community is really and truly looking for,” Kea said.
“It gives a vote of confidence to the business community that the residents appreciate the investments they have made. They spoke loud and clear that they wanted restaurants.”
Rogers thanked the people who worked with him and others in opposition.
“The liquor issue is not an issue that we brought up,” he said, “but we felt a responsibility to speak our convictions when the issue did arise. Now that it has been approved, it’s time for us to move on and focus on sharing Christ’s love with this community.”
Kea reached out to those who were against the measure to join with the CPCE to ensure the local governments write and enact ordinances to allow full-service restaurants in and keep bars out.
“We welcome the opposition to join forces and work with our elected officials to work with getting a good ordinance passed,” he said.
Kea further extended an olive branch to his foes, asking them to sit in with the CPCE at their Thursday meetings at 8:30 a.m. at The Coastal Bank in Rincon.
As for restaurant chains that might be eyeing Effingham now that the referendum has passed, Kea had a message for them.
“Come on,” he said.