Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has arrived.
The idea is holding a referendum on allowing liquor by the drink in the Town of Jefferson.
And frankly, the timing couldn’t be better.
As we’ve written over the last several weeks, the people of Ashe County deserve the development of a strategic vision for tackling the economic challenges we’re facing.
We’ve lost hundreds of manufacturing jobs over the last five years and the loss of Gates Rubber Co. last year was a significant body blow that rocked the very economic foundation of the county.
Moving forward, there needs to be a substantive discussion about how the county grows itself economically.
We believe, for the county to restart its economic engine, its needs to decide on that vision. Do we focus on marketing our message of excellent schools, an educated workforce, access to quality healthcare, and an outstanding quality of life to manufacturers looking to relocate? Do we offer incentives to compel our existing manufacturers to stay here? Do we finance and develop infrastructure to allow entrepreneurs a chance for success? Do we focus on expanding our marketing efforts to draw visitors here?
None of the answers to these questions stand alone as the key to economic success.
It will probably be a combination of all of the above and more.
Whatever happens though, change is going to come and the people need to have a voice in that change.
So, how does a liquor by the drink referendum in Jefferson help develop a new economic strategic vision for Ashe County?
It would serve as an important litmus test, so to speak. It would be a measuring stick of the support, or lack of it, to continue developing tourism here.
Liquor by the drink referendums are rarely dull affairs; sides are chosen and emotions typically run high.
There will be business interests that strongly support offering customers at local restaurants a cocktail with their meals believing that will increase their profits. There will be others who have a strong belief the use of alcohol in all its forms leads down a path of moral and physical destruction.
Both positions are credible and understandable.
But in the final analysis, that is exactly why the state requires a municipality to hold a referendum before the first drink is poured; the people have a choice to offer their collective opinion on whether they believe it will be a good thing, or not.
In the coming weeks and months, Jefferson’s Board of Aldermen will have to make a decision on whether or not a referendum should be held.
During this discussion process, plenty of folks will have opinions on whether or not it should go forward.
We would urge those forces, for and against, to let the aldermen know what they believe the future of Jefferson should be.
The aldermen will probably feel a little more heat than usual from their constituents. It’s one thing to keep the streets free of potholes, offering water and sewer service and police protection. Making a decision that may lead to liquor by the drink in their town is an entirely different ballgame.
We would urge the Jefferson Aldermen to allow the referendum to go forward.
Undoubtedly, the aldermen will feel some heat, but each signed up for making the occasional tough decision.
But, letting Jefferson’s residents speak collectively on its future will provide a clear insight into how Ashe County can move forward in the coming months and years to develop a strategic vision of our economic future.