East Texas Towns Gone Wet Report Few Changes In Life
By KENNETH DEAN, Staff Writer ALCOHOL CRIMES
& MICHELE REESE, KYTX CBS19
East Texas has seen myriad alcohol-related elections.
The pro side touts the potential financial windfalls, road improvements and other potential community pluses.
Meanwhile, the flip side poses concerns about higher crime rates, litter and family destruction if a community allows alcohol sales.
Tony Watson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Winona, said that though his city passed alcohol sales years ago, his fears have been realized.
“If you drive through Winona, it's obvious that most of our businesses are alcohol-driven,” Watson said. “My biggest fear going into to this was the perception that liquor stores would paint Winona in a negative light, and that fear in my mind has been realized.”
The Investigators looked at the numbers to learn if alcohol-related crimes had risen in areas where alcohol was approved and if monies raised through sales tax on alcohol have stimulated the local economies. The team also checked divorce statistics in the areas.
Jacksonville Police Chief Reece Daniel echoed other area police chiefs' views when he noted that alcohol sales had little effect on the crime rate.
"Our crime rate dealing with alcohol-related offenses has either stayed static or gone down slightly," Daniel said. "All of our other crime rates that deal with family violence have stayed static or gone down slightly.
"Talking to police chiefs over the years who have gone through this before, this is normal course of events. It doesn't create the big increase in crime that people think it will."
Records provided by the city of Jacksonville, which began selling beer and wine in 2010 after the voters passed the initiative in May elections, show that in 2011 there were 48 driving while intoxicated arrests, 10 liquor law violations, and 101 drunkenness arrests.
In 2010 there were 57 DWIs, 18 liquor law violations and 106 drunkenness arrests.
In 2009 there were 48 DWIs, four liquor law offenses and 153 drunkenness arrests.
"If you're looking at it from a police perspective, it truly makes very little difference in a community of our size," Daniel said.
The chief said one area where crime has gone down is with bootleggers.
"We have not made any arrests since we began selling beer and wine," he said. "We had quite a few before, but now we are not having that big of a problem with it."
Daniel said litter has also not been an issue like some had feared.
"The store owners have been very good about cleaning that up," he said. "When people were driving 10-15 miles to buy alcohol, human nature many times is they would have one or two on the way home and toss the cans out. Here, if you're 5 minutes away and you buy beer and wine and you go home, meaning you don't litter that much."
In Rusk, where voters approved beer and wine sales in 2009, police said their statistics show no major problems.
Chief Joe Evans said the availability of beer and wine has helped cut down on the number of alcohol-related incidents.
"I think part of it is the fact that they don't have to drive to get their alcohol," he said. "Instead of driving 20, 30, 40 miles to get alcohol, it's convenient because they stop by their local store and do their drinking in the house."
Rusk numbers show that public intoxications increased in 2011 to 46 from 35 in 2010, but Evans said that was because of weekend-long mud bogs held in Alto and Jacksonville.
"The majority of the arrests were not people from Rusk, but people partying all weekend at these mud bogs then stopping in our city for gas and other items," he said.
Other numbers in Rusk show there were 10 DWI arrests in 2011 compared to 10 the year before and eight possession of alcohol in a vehicle compared to seven in 2010.
Winona police said his town had a few public intoxications and DWIs, but the numbers were lower than years prior when motorists would drive through Winona after stopping at liquor stores in Big Sandy.
Winona police, however, could not provide the numbers to the Investigators upon request.
All three police chiefs added there had been no robberies where alcohol was sold, but shoplifting did occurred.
"People shoplift at other stores every day, so it's not because alcohol is involved," Evans said.
While crime rates seem to have remained steady, the sales tax raised has helped alleviate one city's financial headaches and provided much-needed cash to help the cash strapped municipality.SALES TAX
While the passing of alcohol initiatives in some towns has given city leaders money to revitalize their downtowns and other improvements, it also has caused towns such as Cuney to see tax revenues dwindle when larger towns went wet.
"It's not that we want to be known as a liquor town," Winona City Manager Bubba Bixler said. "We want to be known as a thriving community, and this is a starting point for us."
Bixler said that since Winona went wet, the city has been able to complete long-overdue projects that bettered the community.
"We've done three new roads, repaved all of our entry ways, have concrete entrances, new curbs new gutter," he said. "We done some drainage work on one of our roads. We've refurbished one of our water towers and got it back into code for (the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) and actually bought a utility truck for our utility department."
Bixler said that before Winona began selling alcohol, the city had few sources of sales tax revenue, and when the liquor stores opened, that revenue spiked several hundred percent.
He added that since the alcohol initiative passed, new businesses have made Winona their home, including a bank, which the city has not had in years.
But as East Texas city after city passes alcohol initiatives, Bixler knows the skyrocketing sales tax revenue will disappear.
State records show Winona's tax revenue went from $30,042 in 2009 to a whopping $222,860 in 2011 -- a 642 percent increase.
"It's not something we anticipate on keeping," he said. "We figure other communities will go wet. Our council has done a great job of not counting on this money every year."
In Jacksonville, the city has seen a 2.9 percent sales tax increase since going wet, but city administrator Mo Raissi said the city's school bond election was more of a credit in pushing sales tax revenue than the alcohol issue.
"We have had a school bond election pass and the construction that has created has spurred a lot of this growth, but alcohol sales are helping. Alcohol sales have helped us some, but I don't think it's had that big of an effect," he said.
Raissi said that since Jacksonville began selling beer and wine, there has been a lot of expansion in local convenience stores.
Tony Wilburn, manager of the Super Gallo Mercado in Jacksonville, said the alcohol has spurred new business.
"We have people coming in here to buy beer or wine, and what we began seeing is they would go to our meat market and make other in-store purchases while here," he said.
Wilburn gave no specific numbers but said sales have increased significantly.
He added that since the store began selling beer and wine, there have been no types of disturbances with drunken individuals.
"It's just been great and we have a whole new type of customer coming in here than before," he said.
Records from the state of Texas show Jacksonville's sales tax numbers increased to about $3.3 million last year from $3.1 million in 2009.
Rusk City Manager Mike Murray said alcohol sales have helped, but he pointed to the sales tax figures before the election passed, which indicated economic growth was occurring.
"I can't attribute it to alcohol because sales tax was increasing for years before the alcohol election," he said.
Though Murray believes shop-at-home campaigns have been the driving point in the local economy, he can't rule out alcohol sales completely.
"We just don't have a way to gauge how alcohol has affected sales tax," Murray said. "But anytime you bring a new product into town you will get more sales tax, but it's still hard to quantify."
Rusk saw its sales tax revenue spike to $681,701 in 2010 from $613,782 the previous year.
Murray said Texas State Railroad ticket sales could be credited for some of the tax increase, but tax revenue in 2010 was $611,483.
However that number, the lowest in several years, was far greater than in 2008, when the sales tax revenue was $546,092.
It's also important to note that last week the company operating the Texas State Railroad said that without help, there would be no choice but to cease operations.FAMILY PROBLEMS
Pastor Watson of Winona said he has counseled families with problems stemming from alcohol, but he could not say that was in direct relation to alcohol being sold in Winona.
"Have I counseled more families about alcohol since the election? No. But have I heard of more families with troubles? Yes, I have," he said.
Watson was part of the group opposing Winona going wet and said the vision of liquor stores lining up Texas Highway 155 and the sale of alcohol still bother him.
"Everyone I talk to about this is still just as aggravated as they were before the election and maybe even more so now. All of the negative things we were afraid of have come true.
"I know people that have even quit going to the convenience stores that sell alcohol because it bothers them."
Watson said he believes that as more and more towns go wet, the money will dry up in Winona, leaving a ghost town forgotten by everyone but those who call the town home.
"In 10 years I don't think there will be a dry city or county in the state, and I think that is because of the lessening of the moral fiber in our nation," he said. "The more things are allowed, then the more commonplace they become, and it's even happening in the Christian community."
Beverly Womack, a certified therapist with offices in Tyler and Jacksonville, said she has not seen an increase in those needing counseling for alcohol-related problems.
"People who have an alcohol problem will get that alcohol if they have to drive one mile or 300 miles. Alcohol is the most abused drug in the country, and it does enhance some people's behavior and their reasoning, but rage is the biggest factor in abuse cases," she said.
Alcoholics Anonymous in Jacksonville said they have not seen an increase in people attending support groups since the town went wet.
Police in Winona, Jacksonville and Rusk all said domestic abuse cases did not spike after alcohol sales began in their cities.
Rusk Police Chief Joe Evans said the residents they had problems with before alcohol was passed were typically the same people they get calls on now.
"The only difference we have with those individuals is now they don't have to drive 30 miles to get their alcohol, which they were going to get anyway," he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, alcohol was a factor in between 19 percent and 37 percent of violent crimes from 1997 to 2008.
However, the Justice Department reported the proportion of violence involving alcohol as well as the rate of alcohol-related violence has declined over the past decade.
The report also stated intimates were the majority of the victims in those crimes.
"Alcohol-related crime was less likely to include juveniles as victims and offenders. It was more likely to result in injury and to take place in evening hours and on weekends. A large proportion of alcohol-related violence -- more so than non-alcohol-related violence -- occurred in and around residences," the report stated.
According to the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics, Cherokee County saw 180 divorces in 2008, 194 in 2009 and 180 in 2010.
In Smith County, the records show that 2008 and 2009 had between 700 and 710 divorces, and 2010 shows 656 divorces.
The records for 2010 do have a disclaimer stating all records may not be counted.
Despite both sides' pros and cons, alcohol initiatives remain in the minds of voters with more cities eyeing the possibility of going wet.
In May, Rusk is holding another election to sell hard liquor in the city.
In Winona, Bixler said he believes it's just a matter of time before Tyler or portions of Tyler go wet and take the tax revenue from his city, but until that time the push is to make as many improvements as possible.
"This is something that we have now and while we have it we are going to fix all of the infrastructure we can fix," he said before pausing and then adding, "But when it's gone, it's going to be gone."