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Lakeport alcohol measures on November ballot

By Glenn Evans
Sept. 7, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Backers of a Nov. 6 ballot measure to allow alcohol sales inside Lakeport are optimistic after a summer petition drive turned up little opposition.

"The community, they have been very receptive," said Lakeport grocer Stephen Skinner. "Of all the people I've spoken to, four of those people said, 'No.' And two of them ... changed their minds."

Skinner and his wife, Alison, co-owners of Skinner's Corner Store at Texas 149 and Texas 322, backed a Help the Economy of Lakeport committee, gathering more than the 87 signatures needed to bring two alcohol referendums to local ballots during the coming general election.

The HELP committee hopes voters in this city of 974 people will OK retail and out-the-door sales of beer and wine as well as a provision allowing restaurants to offer on-site drinks.

"This will strengthen the businesses as well as the community," Alison Skinner said. "(It will foster) a stronger tax base. The community can do more and grow more and can strengthen the infrastructure."

An incorporated city, Lakeport has limited revenue for streets, water and sewer lines or police protection from its 59-cent property tax rate. The city does not collect sales tax for itself, though a separate referendum over a half-cent city sales tax is being discussed for 2013.

The second referendum seeks to simplify what diners go through to have a margarita with their enchilada platter. Texas law allows restaurants to operate as private clubs - with pretty much open membership - to get around alcohol bans.

T Blanco's Mexican Cafe, on Texas 322, secured its private club status about a year ago, co-owner Mason White said.

"It's not only changed sales overall, but it improved our food sales," White said of becoming a private club. "Our food sales have gone up 50 to 75 percent."

The state red tape that comes with being a private club, plus eating the $3 membership fee he doesn't charge his members, spurs White to support the referendum. The state also requires such "clubs" to have a board of directors with regular meetings and bylaws.

"This would make our paperwork 10 times easier," said White, whose father, restaurant founder Thomas White, is a leader on the HELP committee formed in June.

Alison Skinner said support was relatively easy to recruit. The group stopped collecting names at around 120, she said.

"I went door-to-door, me and a few others, who were getting the petition signed," she said. "And we explained it's not about consumption. It's going to be consumed, so why not provide it here for the tax dollars?"

"And once people understood that, they signed the petition," her husband added. "This is not for liquor stores, this is not for package stores. It's not for bars."

Liquor sales already kiss the northern tip of Lakeport, which lies a few feet south of a curve on Texas 149 long known as Whiskey Bend. Lakeport grew up around private Lake Cherokee, which, like many Texas lakes, creates a thirst for alcoholic beverages.

"Say you have a family down here visiting somebody at the lake on July Fourth," said Stephen Skinner, who opened the Lakeport grocery nine years ago after his father and uncle sold their namesake store in Longview. "They will come in and will shop. And they'll come up to the office and say, 'Where's your beer and wine?' And they will leave a buggy of groceries right there."

The city has contracted with the Gregg County Elections Department to dovetail the two alcohol questions onto general election ballots. That will make the ballot coincide with county, state and federal elections, including early voting, Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy said.

Lakeport voters will cast ballots on election day at the Elderville Community Center, she added.



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