Monday, October 23, 2017

A Bar is not the Way to Grow

City Council is in the process of considering a change to the existing ordinance as it relates to the sale of alcohol in non-residential establishments. There has been some healthy debate on this topic, but the more debate I hear, the more I fear that most people do not understand what is really being considered. I also get the impression that even some council members do not understand this proposal.

There are a handful of restaurants in Union that serve alcohol; the law allows that, and no one is considering changing that in any way. To hear people defend this new proposal, though, one would think those of us in opposition are trying to keep restaurants from serving beer. That is not the case. We are not pushing to become a dry city, nor are we trying to get restaurants to stop serving alcohol.

The current law in Union forbids the operating of an establishment for the primary purpose of consuming alcohol; the proposal before Council would change that. If the ordinance is changed it would allow for bars to open within the city; nothing more, and nothing less. That is why I was shocked to hear council members at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that if we change this ordinance then we can get chained restaurants to come here. They already can, and it is mindboggling that Council doesn’t know that. Restaurants operate for the primary purpose of serving food, and by law, can serve alcohol. Bars and taverns operate for the primary purpose of serving alcohol.   

Will this bring revenue? Of course. But at what cost? The state of Minnesota released a fact sheet to see how much revenue was generated from alcohol, and they found that number to be a staggering $296 million annually. But Minnesota had the wisdom to also factor in what they had to pay out as a result of selling alcohol. Here is what it cost them:

After factoring in alcohol related homicide/suicide, falling and other accidents, drowning while under the influence, certain types of cancer, liver disease, other chronic illnesses, vehicular accidents, unintended pregnancies, birth defects, and alcohol dependence programs, Minnesota found out that they paid out $5.06 billion because of alcohol sales. 

In other words, they took an almost $5 billion loss. These numbers are admittedly state wide, not city wide, so the numbers aren’t comparable, but the concept is. Alcohol always costs more than it brings in. Alcohol always costs more than it is worth.

Let’s not forget that South Carolina leads the nation in vehicular deaths on country roads. We also lead the nation in DUIs causing vehicular death and are in the top five of overall DUIs. We have ranked at or near the top for years. Drunk driving and fatal accidents are directly proportional. Please, let’s keep that out of our city.

We rank at the top of the vehicular fatality list while Utah consistently comes in at number 50. When you consider that two-thirds of Utahans are Mormons who drink no alcohol it is easy to see why they don’t have problems with drunk driving. Anyone can see the correlation: drinking and driving leads to innocent people dying.

There are many ways to grow our great city, but a tavern isn’t one of them. Do we really want to bring in an establishment that exists for the primary purpose of alcohol consumption, especially just a couple of hundred yards from our only University, especially in light of our new campus housing?

The most alarming thing I heard during the meeting was when someone actually suggested that maybe some of these vehicular deaths were caused because people have to go to Spartanburg to go to a bar. She said that if these people could go to bars in Union, then they would have fewer miles to drive under the influence of alcohol (which, for the record, is a felony). 

If the best argument we can make is that it is better for citizens of Union to drive drunk for shorter distances than driving drunk from Spartanburg, then we really haven't come up with a good reason to pass this ordinance.

A tavern on Main Street will not be a bright spot for our city. It will be a blight on our city. I applaud Tommy Anthony (District 1) and Ricky Todd Harris (District 4) for their opposition, and I respectfully ask the other members to join them and block this measure.

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