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Anna officials say liquor sales have boosted revenue
July 17, 2010
By ED HOUSEWRIGHT / The Dallas Morning News
Anna is a one-stoplight town whose main drag features a feed store, a trailer park and The Malt Shop, a drive-in that looks unchanged from the 1950s.
Stereotypical small town? Yes, except for a little place called Coyote Liquor Den.
Anna – population 8,250 – is the only place in Collin County to allow liquor stores. And five years after the contentious election that let them in, Anna remains small and still miles from the suburbia creeping north, a laboratory of sorts for examining the effects of liquor sales on a community.
"I can't think of a situation that would be better," said Scott Testa, a business professor at Cabrini College in Philadelphia, who has studied alcohol trends. "No data collection is pure, but Anna has fewer factors that could skew the data."
Testa notes that arguments over alcohol sales center on the economic benefit vs. the perceived social harm. That's not lost on folks in Anna, which now has four liquor stores but not a single 7-Eleven or Starbucks.
"I still don't like to see liquor and beer signs around town," said Buddy Hayes, a 50-year resident and president of Texas Star Bank. "But sales have been excellent. I certainly appreciate what they've done for the city."
How communities fare with expanded alcohol sales is getting new attention because of elections this fall in Dallas and University Park to eliminate "dry" areas.
Anna's sales tax revenue has more than doubled since liquor stores were approved by just 19 votes. In 2005 Anna received $353,781, according to the state comptroller. In 2009, that number had swelled to $767,497 – an increase of 117 percent. That increase far exceeds Anna's 63 percent population growth during the same period.
Liquor store owners and managers in Anna were reluctant to discuss sales, except to say business was good. State and city officials don't break down sales taxes by product, so it's hard to measure liquor's exact impact. In recent years, a number of businesses – including a supermarket, an auto parts store and restaurants – have opened.
But the liquor stores have played a major role in padding city coffers, said Mayor Darren Driskell. "The sales tax dollars have been a huge boon for the city."
The windfall has helped build two parks, Natural Springs and Slayter Creek, and buy land for more, City Manager Philip Sanders said. It's allowed the town to expand its police presence from a single officer to a force of 11, open a new police station and reconstruct older streets, he said.
Meanwhile, officials say, the forecast ills of liquor stores haven't materialized.
The Collin County Substance Abuse Program assesses and refers juveniles and adults who have drug and drinking problems, said its director, Tommy Blakeman. Many are referred by courts.
Blakeman said he hadn't noticed any increase in alcoholism or alcohol-related crimes since the Anna liquor stores opened. He said he frequently gives community presentations and hasn't heard people lament the vote.
Police Chief Kenny Jenks said driving while intoxicated and other alcohol-related crimes haven't increased. Sexually oriented businesses haven't arrived. And, officials say, the liquor stores haven't caused the surrounding neighborhoods to deteriorate.
"Some of the nicest stores in town are the liquor stores," say Hayes, the banker. "And it's clean all around them."But while many Anna leaders laud the liquor stores, former City Council member Billy Deragon has a more skeptical view.
He worries about the effect on Anna's image of having Collin County's only liquor stores. Three of the four – Anna Liquor, Fossil Creek Liquor and Goody Goody – sit visibly on U.S. Highway 75 at the town's only exit.
"I still feel it's a negative that the first thing people see when they come into Anna is liquor stores," Deragon said. "Someone could say sexually oriented businesses are economic development. It's a question of where do you draw the line."
In Dallas, where voters will decide in November whether to eliminate areas that don't allow beer and wine sales, groups on both sides have sparred vigorously. However the arguments have primarily involved the accuracy of economic projections, not whether crime will increase.
Alcohol elections invariably stir strong emotions, said Testa, who has consulted for liquor companies.
He said research doesn't support the claim that greater availability of alcohol leads to higher crime.
"Certainly, there are cases where people with substance abuse problems commit crimes," he said. "To say it doesn't happen would be absolutely false. But those are relatively low. Even in towns that are dry, you still have those issues."
Another expert, however, cautions that alcohol sales affect communities differently and can produce negative results.
Traci Toomey heads the University of Minnesota's Alcohol Epidemiology Program, which researches ways to reduce social and health problems associated with drinking.
"Quite a few studies have looked at the density of alcohol establishments and various types of health and crime outcomes," Toomey said. "The preponderance of research evidence does suggest [that] as we increase the number of alcohol establishments in a given neighborhood, we see an increase in a wide range of problems.
"Some have shown violence, some higher levels of sexually transmitted diseases and some more traffic crashes, although I think the evidence is a little more mixed."
Rick Ballard, executive director of the Collin Baptist Association, said he hasn't heard of specific problems arising from Anna's liquor sales.
But he said the wider availability of alcohol can have insidious effects. For instance, underage drinking can increase and excessive drinking by adults can strain families, he said. "You can't necessarily put a statistic on it, but there are enough ills and damage to the family that you don't really want it around you."
'The citizens spoke'
Liquor sales didn't arrive in Collin County without a fight. A 2003 ballot proposal in Anna failed by a wide margin. The 2005 measure, to allow retail sales of all kinds of alcoholic beverages, passed with 51.5 percent of the vote.
Dan Lovitt, who led the petition drive to call the first election, said he was surprised by the strident opposition. Opponents circulated fliers that said DWI arrests would soar and strip clubs would arrive if voters approve liquor sales.
"I was amazed," said Lovitt. "It really opened my eyes to what politics can be like. I guess I went in kind of naïve."
Voters have rejected liquor sales in the Collin County towns of Fairview, Lowry Crossing, Melissa and St. Paul.
Ballot proposals for sales of beer and wine have fared much better. In the past decade, voters in Allen , Frisco and McKinney? have approved the sale of beer and wine at grocery and convenience stores. Parts of Plano have allowed beer and wine sales since 1977.
Deragon, the former Anna City Council member, said he felt so strongly about the problems liquor stores pose for Anna that he led a petition drive in 2007 to overturn the 2005 election.
But the subsequent election revealed a far different mood among voters.
With almost twice the turnout, more than 77 percent voted to keep the sale of beer, wine and liquor. Deragon said he has given up on efforts to rid Anna of alcohol.
"The citizens spoke," he said.
Link to this article at The Dallas Morning News....
The Observer comments:
The voters in Frisco also spoke, but that hasn't prevented the City of Frisco from spending almost a million taxpayer dollars to purchase land to try to block the election's outcome and thousands more dollars in legal attempts to use the courts to circumvent the will of those same tax payers.
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