City limits beer sales in stores, bars|[03/11/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A number of restrictions in the times and manner in which Vicksburg bars, groceries and convenience stores may lawfully sell beer and other alcoholic beverages were unanimously adopted by the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday.

“We will be enforcing it heavily,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said of the new laws, which carry fines of up to $1,000 and 90 days of jail time. “We have got to break this unnecessary crime trend that is usually related to alcohol.”

The change in the city beer ordinance makes it illegal for stores to sell single beers from ice chests, for someone younger than 21 to be in a bar and for anyone to take his or her own beer or alcohol into a bar or business.

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Additionally, beer and alcohol may not be sold from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday or from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sunday. Neighborhood bars or clubs within a residential zone will now have to close by 10 p.m. and not re-open until 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

The restrictions stem from recommendations by Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett and Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon to the board earlier this year, at which time they pointed to a link between crime and late-night drinking.

Most of the 10 homicides in Vicksburg last year were alcohol-related and occurred between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., police said. Similarly, the majority of the 75 DUI arrests made by police in 2007 came between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Moffett said late-night drinking also contributes to fights, noise and loitering complaints that keep officers from more productive police work.

Moffett said he is hopeful the tougher regulations will help curtail some of the alcohol-related crime. However, he added more restrictions — such as the elimination of all single beer sales — may be in order in the future.

“The changes made today are a step in the right direction,” Moffett said Monday. “And I feel they will be able to help lessen some of the problems we’ve been having. If we don’t get the desired changes, then we’re going to approach to the mayor and board again with more recommendations.”

In passing the new laws, Leyens said the board is trying to accommodate both police requests and the freedom of local merchants to operate successfully. However, he did not rule out further restrictions if alcohol-related crimes continue.

“We’re going to try this out and see how it goes. If we have to restrict further, we will,” he said.

One of the stores that will be affected by the change is Wal-Mart SuperCenter on U.S. 61 South, which is open 24 hours a day.

Manager Roger Washington said he will contact his corporate supervisors to post signs in the store notifying customers of the changes and begin employee training to enforce the new laws.

“We’ll begin letting everybody know — both the customers and our associates — about the changes, but my initial feeling is that this won’t be a problem for us,” Washington said, noting Wal-Mart does not sell beer from ice chests. “Generally, 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. is not a very busy time for us, and we don’t sell a whole lot of liquor during that time.”

Management at the only other 24-hour grocery, Kroger on Pemberton Square Boulevard, would not comment.

New beer sales rules

The following changes have been made to the laws governing alcohol sales in Vicksburg. The new laws do not apply to casinos or bars with resort status.

Grocery stores and convenience stores may not sell beer and light wine between the hours of 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday.

People younger than 21 may not enter businesses serving alcohol.

Groceries and convenience stores may not sell single beers or light wine from ice tubs or similar containers, other than a mechanical refrigeration unit.

Brown-bagging, which is taking wine, liquor or beer into a bar or business, is illegal.

Neighborhood bars or clubs within a residential zone must close by 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday, and not re-open until 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

On the agenda

Also Monday, the mayor and board approved:

Allocating $17,500 to the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation as a grant match.

An invoice of $1,296.56 to the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport

A semi-annual appropriation of $7,500 to the Warren County Soil & Water Conservation District

A payment of $37,174.85 to the Vicksburg-Warren E-911 Emergency Communications Center for dispatcher salaries, matching benefits and insurance for Jan. 1-31.