City’s alcohol restrictions will stand|Mayor loses bid to restore late-night sales

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mayor Paul Winfield on Friday lost his bid to repeal beer and light wine sales restrictions enacted in 2008 when Vicksburg’s two aldermen affirmed their continued support of ordinance.

“I was 100 percent in favor of this ordinance when we passed it a little over a year ago — and it may break your heart, Mr. Mayor — but I’m 110 percent in favor of keeping it the way it is,” said North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield. “I disagree that this has not served its purpose. I believe it has.”

It was clear Mayfield’s position would decide the matter before Friday’s meeting, a standing room only session at which nearly a dozen residents commented.

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Winfield has been adamant about repealing the sales restrictions — which limit late night sales and sales from ice chests — since taking office last July. South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, who also voted for the restrictions in 2008, had said he would not vote to repeal and Mayfield was mum until his turn to talk at the end of the meeting.

Approved unanimously under former Mayor Laurence Leyens, the restrictions came at the request of former Police Chief Tommy Moffett and former Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon, who presented 2007 statistics that linked late-night drinking and loitering to an increase in crimes such as DUIs, fights and homicides.

Winfield has questioned those statistics, and said Friday the ordinance has not served its purpose in reducing crime. Furthermore, the mayor said the ordinance has led to reduced sales tax revenues and put Vicksburg convenience and grocery store owners in a bad position compared to their counterparts in the county, which can sell beer anytime, as well as casinos and bars with resort status, which can serve alcohol 24 hours a day.

“It’s hypocrisy, and it puts us at a disadvantage,” said Winfield, whose motion to repeal the restrictions died for lack of a second. “There’s no true measure to quantify the losses that we have had in our community as it relates to this ordinance.”

Most residents who spoke at the 45-minute meeting pleaded with the board to uphold the restrictions.

“The passing of this original ordinance was the single biggest improvement in my quality of life that the City of Vicksburg has managed to pull off since I’ve been here, about 10 years,” said Jay Kilroy, who lives near a convenience store. “I sleep better at night because of this ordinance.”

David Day presented the board with estimates on the sales taxes generated by beer sales from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. — the hours in which beer sales are restricted on weekdays. Sales are restricted between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sundays. His estimate, based on the sale of 1,000 beers between those hours, showed the city would generate about $4,725 a year in additional sales taxes.

“That’s going to be washed away by one criminal call,” Day said. “What’s the cost of one murder…this is blood money we’re talking about.”

Winfield interrupted Day to object to his “blood money” comment — pointing out that Day also makes money from beer sales as owner of The Klondyke — and later said Day’s estimates were not entirely accurate because late night beer sales also lead to other purchases.

No convenience or grocery store owners spoke in favor of repealing the restrictions. Walmart SuperCenter Manager Roger Washington addressed the board, neither in favor of the ordinance nor against it, but simply to urge them to do something to attract people to Vicksburg and retain existing residents.

“Our customer traffic has gone down the past three years — not just because of beer sales. That doesn’t drive my business,” Washington said.

Tommie Rawlings, who has urged the board to repeal the restrictions since last fall and also collected about 100 signatures on a petition, supported the mayor’s claim that the restrictions have not reduced violent crimes. He presented the board with news clippings reporting murders, robberies and assaults since the ordinance took effect in May 2008.

Greg Carter supported the mayor’s stance that the restrictions are penalizing small business owners for the actions of a few criminals.

“Let’s not put our business community at a disadvantage under the auspice of morality,” he said. “It’s not about that. It’s about, are we on a level playing field?”

Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong, who was tapped by Winfield to replace Moffett, attended Friday’s meeting but did not comment. He has previously said he did not think repealing the sales restrictions would lead to an increase in crime.

Contact Steve Sanoski at