Sunday alcohol sales backers hope to build on city vote

Supporters kicked off the countywide campaign for Sunday alcohol sales Friday armed with a confidence that comes from having done this kind of thing before.

Their arguments were familiar -- give people a choice, help local businesses compete, uncork new sources of tax revenue. Because the same lines of reasoning succeeded last year in the city of Rock Hill, restaurateurs and business boosters see little reason to change their approach this time.

"If you look back at what happened in Rock Hill, the momentum is there," said Carol Maroska, chairwoman of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce board.

The pro-Sunday alcohol sales coalition submitted nine boxes to the county elections office Friday morning, saying they contain more than 7,500 signatures needed to get a question on the ballot in November 2008. The elections office has 60 days to check the validity.

Some organizers and election-watchers privately believe the countywide level of support will surpass the 61 percent "Yes" vote in Rock Hill last year.

That's because, in their view, the flood of more than 20,000 new voters into Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie will offset opposition in the more rural western parts of the county. Social and religious conservatives argue Sunday should be honored as the Sabbath, not another day for drinking.

"You look at the suburban neighborhoods," said Tom Sponseller, president of the state's hospitality association. "Many of those have Charlotte commuters. They're in Charlotte five days a week working. Why would they want to go back on their day off?"

A second advantage is that with a presidential election on the ballot in 2008, turnout will be much higher than last year, when the U.S. House race between John Spratt and Ralph Norman served as the headliner.

"Every section of York County is going to be coming to the ballot box, and the heavily populated eastern side certainly will show up," said Rick Whisonant, a local affairs specialist at York Technical College. "The Lake Wylie area always has a huge turnout. Most of them are economic conservatives. And most of them would not have a problem with alcohol sales."

It is unclear whether an end to the ban would apply to the city of York, where voters opposed the request in a 2006 referendum. State law requires four years to pass before another vote, but a countywide approval could supersede the 2006 result, said chamber President Rob Youngblood.

Last year, backers secured endorsements from Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols and Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Pender, both of whom said people deserve the option of drinking on Sundays if they so choose.

The question now is which, if any, other elected officials will publicly announce their support. County Council Chairman Buddy Motz said he hasn't been asked but would add his voice if it would be helpful.

"I don't know if they would benefit if I did or not," Motz said. "If they felt like I could add something, I certainly would be glad to do that. I feel strongly about giving people a choice. That was my stance with Rock Hill, and I'm not going to change it just because it's a county issue."