HARTSELLE — Those against alcohol sales fired the first shot Thursday in a campaign they said is about preserving the “Hartselle brand.”
The “vote yes” campaign is using flawed numbers about revenue and is running a misleading campaign, a member of Families for a Safe Hartselle said.
Hartselle and Priceville will vote on wet-dry referendums in the Nov. 6 general election. Both municipalities defeated alcohol measures in 2010. Priceville’s failed by four votes.
With sweat rolling down his face Thursday morning, businessman Mark Coleman said members of Hartselle Citizens for Economic Development are painting a picture of Hartselle in decline because they “know they can’t win on the truth.” His 20-minute fiery speech came as Families for a Safe Hartselle kicked off its anti-alcohol campaign.
“We’re not a city in decline,” Coleman said to the applause of about 100 residents who gathered at EARTH Park on the 10th anniversary of the founding of Families for a Safe Hartselle.
When asked about comments Coleman and attorney Jeff Johnson made Thursday, Bob Francis of Hartselle Citizens for Economic Development said he was going to “take the high road.”
Johnson said the 2007 marketing study numbers used by Francis was flawed because Moulton and Cullman since have approved alcohol sales.
The Texas-based company that did the study said Hartselle residents and homeowners within a 12-minute drive of Hartselle spend $8.4 million annually on alcoholic beverages. Hartselle’s share of the taxes from sales was estimated to be $570,898.
Francis said neither Moulton or Cullman are within 12 minutes of Hartselle. He also said the estimated tax revenue would be larger now because of inflation.
“I don’t want to get in a back-and-forth with the other side, but anything we present is based on research and is documented,” Francis said.
Johnson presented numbers he said proves Hartselle has grown without alcohol since residents first voted on sales in 2002. The city’s budget has increased from $7.2 million to $10.4 million. He cited $25 million in investments on U.S. 31 since 2006 and the city’s 18 -percent population growth since 2000.
“Ten years ago during the first vote, people painted a doom-and-gloom picture if Hartselle didn’t go wet,” Johnson said. “I think you can see Hartselle has been fine.”
As for the Hartselle brand, Coleman defined it as a city with great schools, athletic teams and facilities, attractive housing values and “a place where faith still matters.”
He said voters have an obligation to protect “what people have created” without alcohol revenue.
Kim Upton, director of Milestone Recovery Ministries, also spoke Thursday. She said she took her first alcoholic drink when she was 9 and had become a “full-blown alcoholic” by the time she was a junior at Falkville High.
“Alcohol will destroy what Hartselle is,” Upton said.
Johnson’s organization is not the only group fighting alcohol sales.
An organization called Committee For a Better Way is running a “U Prayed?” campaign. The organization grew from the Hartselle Ministerial Association, which fought the 2002 and 2010 proposals but had no organized campaign.
Hartselle is the largest municipality in the state without alcohol sales.
Francis said he stands by his position that alcohol sales would allow Hartselle to compete with others, including Decatur and Cullman, for retail businesses that sell alcohol.
Decatur is the only municipality in Morgan County with alcohol sales.
In anticipation of Hartselle going wet, Decatur projects a 16 percent — or $185,000 — decrease in alcohol revenue in its 2012-13 budget.
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