FLORENCE, S.C. – Voters will get to decide in November whether Florence County will allow Sunday alcohol sales in bars and restaurants. In a meeting Thursday, the Florence County Council authorized the referendum but rejected a provision that would have allowed sales of beer and wine at stores.
The nine-member council voted 7-2 in favor of a twice-amended version of Ordinance No. 35-2017/18. The amended ordinance directs the Florence County Election Commission to ask Florence County residents whether the Department of Revenue should be allowed to issue permits for on-premises alcohol sales on Sundays.
The ordinance was first amended on the motion of Councilman Steven DeBerry. DeBerry, a Republican, is the council member from northeastern Florence County.
DeBerry’s motion effectively divided the ballot question into two parts: A, which would allow the sale of alcohol by the drink at bars and restaurants, or so-called on-premises sales, and B, which would allow the sale of beer and wine at grocery stores and convenience stores, or so-called off-premises sales.
The council voted 6-3 in favor of DeBerry’s amendment. Vice Chairman Willard Dorriety, Secretary/Chaplain Waymon Mumford, and Councilman Mitchell Kirby voted against the amendment. Dorriety, a Republican, represents West Florence. Mumford, a Democrat, represents North Florence. Kirby, also a Democrat, represents Timmonsville.
Then, after a lengthy discussion mostly between Councilman James Schofield, a Republican who represents South Florence, and Dorriety, Schofield made a motion to amend the ordinance to remove Part B from the ballot question.
The discussion mostly centered on what the city of Florence and other municipalities permitted (Florence permits Part A but does not permit Part B; Lake City permits both Part A and B.) and whether it was legal and feasible to change the ordinance. County Attorney D. Malloy McEachin and Election Commission Executive Director David Alford both assured the council that a change was legal and feasible.
Schofield also said that he could not see the proposal being approved by a majority of Florence County residents with Part B in the referendum.
One of the arguments made in favor of the proposal being passed by the county’s voters is that it would even the playing field between the city and the county in terms of alcohol sales and remove one reason for businesses to seek annexation from the county into the city of Florence.
The second amendment matched the request of Rep. Jay Jordan, who spoke to the council at the meeting. Jordan, a Republican, represents House District 63, which includes West Florence.
“The concerns that I’ve heard over and over again are really twofold,” Jordan told the council. “No.1—and this gets said in virtually every call I heard and I think that’s reflected by most people in the audience—that Sunday is special. Sunday is a day that people in our community, people of faith, they put it sacred. It’s a day for faith and family.”
The second issue Jordan discussed was safety because the proposal, if approved by a majority of the voters in November, would allow off-premises sales because of Part B of the referendum. He added that the statistics he had seen suggested that off-premises sales were more dangerous.
“Lots of people would probably say we prefer there be no alcohol sales on Sunday, but I understand that that train has left the station,” Jordan said. “Y’all can only consider what’s before you, but what I would ask you to consider doing at this late date is at least consider an amendment to the referendum where Part B would be taken off.”
Dorriety seconded Schofield’s motion. The council voted 6-3 in favor of the amendment. Mumford, DeBerry, and Councilman Roger Poston, a Republican who represents southeastern Florence County were the “no” votes.
Then the council voted on the twice-amended ordinance. The vote was 7-2 in favor of the amended ordinance. Dorriety and Mumford were the “no” votes.
Alford and the Florence County Election Commission will now be directed to place the referendum on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election.
If voted in favor of by a majority of Florence County residents, the referendum would allow Sunday alcohol sales at on-premises locations throughout Florence County.