What is Advance Washington County and What are we trying to accomplish?
Advance Washington County is a political action committee organized under the election laws of the State of Florida. Our members are businesses and individuals who support and promote economic development opportunities including changing the DRY status in Washington County.
What is a DRY county?
A DRY county in Florida is a county that has not yet passed a referendum allowing the sale of beverages with an alcohol content exceeding 6.243% alcohol by volume. Washington County is one of three remaining DRY counties in Florida. Our of 67 counties, Lafayette, Liberty, and Washington counties remain DRY today. Santa Rosa county went WET in 2005, and then Suwannee in 2011 and Madison in 2012. Hamilton County voted to allow liquor by the drink in 2007. Previously, Hamilton County voters had authorized sales by package only. The by package only status hindered the county’s ability to diversify its economy by expanding the tourism industry.
Businesses in our County that have an active beverage license may sell beer and wine coolers; however, certain types of beer, wine and liquor exceed the 6.243% threshold and cannot be sold today. A winery located in Washington County would not be able to sell their products due to the DRY county status. Major restaurant chains will NOT locate in this county because of the DRY county status.
We need JOBS in our community! One of the volunteers from the Suwannee County effort researched Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday in Lake City. Both businesses employ 45-60 people. In 1 year, Applebee’s contributed $3,031,800 in tax revenues to the Columbia County community. In addition, Applebee’s presence in that community helps to grow the tourism industry and that economic impact reaches further into the community. Let’s look at an example: A family of 4 is traveling east. They get hungry and decide to stop to eat at Applebee’s. While there, they eat dinner; fill up with gas; perhaps stop at Wal-Mart to purchase goodies for the road; and maybe decide to stay overnight in a local hotel. There are folks employed at the restaurant, gas station, Wal-Mart, and hotel. Not to mention the other businesses that employ folks to support these businesses. Tourism is a great way to expand and diversify our economy.
What is the process to change the DRY county status in Washington County?
The process to change the DRY county status in Washington County is defined in Chapter 567 Florida Statutes. A petition must first be filed with the Clerk of the Court. Once the Petition is filed, that starts the time clock to collect signatures. The law to change the DRY county status was enacted in 1933, so the benchmark set at that time was very high. Twenty-five percent of the registered voters’ signatures must be collected. In other elections, the signature requirement to place a candidate on the ballot is far less demanding.
AND you only have 120 days to collect all those signatures, validate the signatures, and present the Petition to the County Commission to set the election.
Once the election is set, the voter will first vote to allow the sale of wine and intoxicating liquors. Then, the voter will select the method of sale. The two options are (1) by package only or (2) by package and by drink. The proponents of this referendum support by package and by drink because limiting the retail component will not enhance economic development opportunities in Washington County.
Will changing the DRY county status be the only solution to build our economy?
There is no single solution to turn around our nation’s struggling economy but changing the DRY county status will serve as a catalyst for new businesses and new jobs in many employment sectors. In Washington County, because of the lack of upscale and national chain restaurants; suitable lodging; adequate meeting space; entertainment; and supplies, businesses and industries not directly connected to alcohol are reluctant to locate here. Changing the DRY county status will bring these amenities, facilities and services to Washington County and will serve to attract new business once we adopt a business-friendly climate. Attracting new industries to our county will create jobs.
When will the election be held?
The Special Election will be a mail-out ballot serviced by the Supervisor of Elections office. The mail-out ballot is set to go out December 16, 2021, with a final date of 1/21/2022. The results of the vote with be 50% of the ballots returned, plus 1.
According to the Brookings Institution, mail in ballots generate 10-15% more participation. These ballots will be verified and held in confidence by the Supervisor of Elections.
Is it true that DUI’s will increase when Washington County is WET?
No, in fact when Santa Rosa County voted to go wet in 2005 DUI’s DECREASED. Three years prior to the election, Santa Rosa averaged 340 DUI’s per month. In the three years following the election, Santa Rosa’s DUI’s averaged 254 per month, a 25% decrease in DUI’s. This occurred during a time when the population increased by 15%.
Is it true that when we go WET there will be a club or a bar at every corner?
No, the number of bars and package stores would be limited by population. Bars and package stores require a quota license. Quota licenses are based on population. One license is issued for each 7,500 residents. So our best estimates are that Washington County will receive 3 new licenses. Quota licenses are NOT pre-determined who will receive them. County Commissioners NO LONGER select licensees. Licenses will be issued by a lottery. Any person over the age of 21 can enter the lottery once they complete an application and pay the application fee. The number of individuals applying for the license is unlimited. However, an individual may only enter the lottery one time.
Licenses to sell wine and beer are not limited by population as the quota licenses are, so restaurants that derive more than 51% of their revenue from food sales; have seating available for 150 or more persons; and who have 2,500 square feet may obtain a special license to sell beer, wine, and liquor for consumption on premises.
Hotels, convention facilities, bowling alleys, golf and country clubs may also sell liquor if they meet the licensing criteria and once they obtain the appropriate license.
Will going WET cause more people to use alcohol?
We believe that responsible adults will be responsible with alcohol, as are many of us who are also responsible with our firearms. We trust this to be true especially about Washington County residents. More importantly, let us not forget people living here can already drink alcohol now if they wish. They buy alcohol and drink alcohol in neighboring counties and spend their tax dollars there, then drive home to Washington County, possibly impaired. The question isn’t whether going WET will cause more people to use alcohol. The real question is who will get the profits, license fees, taxes, jobs and other economic benefits? Until we go WET, it won’t be us.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
We’ve won the right to vote, but we need every citizen’s vote to bring about a successful result. Advance Washington County needs every registered voter to vote accordingly and return the ballot. We also ask that you check in on friends and family and encourage them to do the same.