by Kara Laws
As the 2017 election draws closer, the debate over alcohol sales continues. Blanding is one of the nine dry cities in Utah as of 2015. It is one of more than 60 dry cities and municipalities within “wet” counties throughout the United States. Blanding shares that dry standard with more than 140 dry counties.
This year however, the Blanding City Council has voted to once again allow the citizens of Blanding to choose. The citizens will vote, by mail, if they would like the no-alcohol ban to remain intact or if they would like the ban to be lifted.
There are heated feelings on both sides of the debate. In this issue of the San Juan Record, we will look at reasons why the ban should be lifted. Of many reasons, there seems be two that are most prominent.
First is the freedom of choice. Many feel the ban an alcohol sales infringes on their rights. It should be their choice, they say.
“Let me decide for myself… This should be our individual right. We, as a community are pretty much telling people that if they want to buy [alcohol] within city limits that they are not welcome,” said Blanding resident Trent Herring.
Herring, like many others, said that allowing the ban to continue is a way of allowing local government to make personal decisions.
Supporters of lifting the ban say Blanding citizens and visitors should be allowed to have a beer with dinner. They say that each citizen should have the right to choose for themselves instead of other’s beliefs being forced upon them.
Many believe it is not fair to the different viewpoints of people who live in the community to be forced into what some believe. This is what some say is a “Mormon standard”.
Many who advocate lifting the ban insist they do not drink themselves, but think it should be up to businesses and their patrons on what beverages are consumed on their property.
It is more about the freedom of choice than anything. “I know the question is about alcohol sales,” Herring said, “but it comes down to government overreach, and either you are for it or against it. I personally am against government overreach.”
The second most stated reason to lift the ban is the potential for increased sales and taxes. Another solid reason for wanting the ban lifted goes hand-in-hand with the talks of economic development within the city over the past several months.
Many insist that lifting the alcohol ban will improve business. It will be good for businesses and will help the city, which collects sales taxes from each sale, they say.
“I hope it gets lifted,” said Jordan Bayles, who works in the service industry. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how much money the town has lost because people can’t have a beer or glass of wine with their dinner.
“I know that people have gotten up and left restaurants in town because they could not have a beer or glass of wine with their meals. It may not be a tremendous amount of money, but even if it’s only $5,000 per year, over the last 20 years that is $100k that the city has missed out on.”
Many others echo her sentiments, including Sharon Guymon, owner of Homestead Steakhouse. Guymon spoke to city council about the issues and read several reviews left for her restaurant that complained about the lack of alcohol in town.
Others shared anecdotes online about their experiences with customers walking out on a full cart of groceries or meals once they learned there would be no alcohol.
“It is probably not disputable that the economic impact would be positive,” wrote Jeremy Lyman. “Many tour buses and tourists in general bypass Blanding’s restaurants, hotels, and retail stores because they would rather stop somewhere where they can buy alcohol. Not to mention that many Blanding residents purchase alcohol themselves, and obviously they currently purchase their alcohol somewhere else.”
Tyler Bailey also listed the benefits for local businesses, “The economic benefits would definitely help generate more revenue for businesses, and do the taxes from those purchases not benefit our community as a whole?
“Alcohol alone may not create vast amounts of revenue, but many tourists may like to have a beer or other type of drink with their meal. Those meals, products, and/or services provided in those establishments create tax revenue.”
Some suggest that Moab and Bluff benefit from Blanding being a dry town because the tourists pass on through to places with the drinks they enjoy.
No one is debating that alcohol abuse and addiction, drunk driving, and underage drinking happens in the community and surrounding communities. However, those in favor of lifting the ban insist that allowing the sale of beer and wine in Blanding will not negatively impact those issues.
Instead, they hope it will help keep drunk drivers off the road because their alcohol will often be within walking distance.
Others hope the tax revenues that come into the city can help fund programs such as rehabilitation for those struggling with addictions. They hope the increase in taxes can help be a part of the solution.
“Selling alcohol in town is not what creates alcoholic/drunk issues in the healthcare system. Breakdown of families and communities, lack of education, poverty, lack of resources, and boredom do that.
“Isn’t it possible to use the funds gained from selling [alcohol] to try and help fund resources for these people?” asked a local healthcare employee and EMT. “I would much rather have people walking a few blocks to get more alcohol than driving three and/or 20 miles for more.”
She suggests the focus on drunk drivers is not the biggest risk to children and mentioned that a bigger concern should be cell phone use and speeding.
She adds, “Most of the arguments I hear against it are based in fear. Alcohol and the problems that come from it are not going to go away by not selling it in town.
“I am of the opinion that the responsible thing to do is try to financially gain from it and help the community who has a huge need for rehabilitative services.”
Many local residents agreed with her sentiments and insist the City of Blanding can turn the sale of alcohol into a positive thing.
The Center for Disease Control said that reducing underage drinking is a community effort. Many of those in favor of lifting the Blanding alcohol ban hope to use the sale of alcohol to improve the local economy, increase tourism, fund programs to help youth and addicts, and above all, allow the people who live in Blanding to make decisions for themselves.
The debate will surely continue until, and perhaps even after, the polls are reported. This is an important topic to many citizens and will continue in the October 25 issue of the San Juan Record.