Council takes no action; voters may decide issue
There was standing room only at Monday night's City Council meeting as proponents and opponents of Sunday liquor sales gathered to try to get the council to take action on the polarizing issue.
But in the end, the council took no action. Instead, council members will leave it up to proponents to try to collect enough signatures on a petition to force a public referendum on Sunday liquor sales.
Council member Jim Truesdell opened the nearly 40-minute discussion on Sunday liquor sales.
"I struggled with this issue because I felt it was being inconsistent opposing the sale of package liquor on Sundays and not doing anything about it the other six days of the week," Truesdell said. "Alcohol is so devastating to our community that anything we can do to discourage it, I think we should. I don't consider it a religious issue or a moral issue. I consider it a common-sense issue. Alcohol has been costing us more and we have got to do something to discourage it."
Truesdell said he discourages his children from using alcohol and drugs. By voting to change the ordinance to allow Sunday sales, he said he would be "sending them the wrong message."
Most audience members Monday night held the same opinion. Several community members spoke about the dangerous effects alcohol can have on both a person's physical well being and the well being of their family.
"The argument here is the same as it was last time," said Dennis Bixby. "'The customer will drive out of town to get (alcohol).' Let them. 'We get tax revenue by having it.' True, absolutely true, but with revenue comes an expectation cost. You pay extra for police and fire protection, when you pay extra for domestic violence, when you pay extra because you have a broken family that now has public assistance, when you pay extra because insurance premiums are higher now because you sell alcohol 18 percent more of the time than you did the previous year."
Bixby said he already lives with people being able to buy alcohol six days a week. Changing the ordinance, he said, was geared toward problem drinkers and the benefit of only a few local retailers.
But retailers argued that because people can still get alcohol on Sunday in other cities, Tonganoxie businesses shouldn't be hurt by it.
"By us not being open on Sunday, it's not going to stop people from drinking. It's just saying we are not going to support our local business. That's why so many places have been going out of business -- because we are not supporting our community," said Jennifer Polley, manager of Krouse Retail Liquors.
Opponents to Sunday liquor sales also warned of the increase number of traffic accidents and fatalities that could occur from drunk drivers if the ordinance were changed, but Polley countered by saying the sale of liquor in at area bars and restaurants was legal and it didn't make any sense for residents to drive to a place to drink and then drive home, when they could just buy alcohol and drink at home.
At the end, the council decided to put the future of Sunday liquor sales back in the hands of the interested parties.
"My personal opinion is that this is such a polarizing issue and both sides have a lot of passion and make a lot of good points. I don't think personally think it's going to be decided by a five-person council. I just don't. It's not in our best interest and it's not in the city's best interest," said Council member Jason Ward.
The council took no action on a new ordinance, leaving it up to the liquor retailers to get a petition that would bring this decision to vote in a special election.
The retailers would need signatures of XX registered voters in Tonganoxie, which is equal to 5 percent of the total number of registered Tonganoxie residents that voted in the 2004 presidential election, to force a referendum.
Petitioners also would need to raise the money to pay for the special election. Linda Sheer, Leavenworth County clerk, said a special election would cost around $2,500. The election would be scheduled within 45 days after the petition is verified by the county.
Mary Krouse, owner of Mary's Retail Liquor, said she was surprised the council didn't even vote on the matter after it was willing to look into the sales at its Aug. 13 meeting.
"When you get a group of constituents, I could see why their decision was to make no decision. It gets them out of the hot seats and puts it on other people," Krouse said. "But we'll finally get this on a ballot and let the community decide."