The state Board of Elections on Friday authorized the town's request to allow a referendum on the issue of mixed beverages to be held during the Nov. 5 general election.
The town Board of Commissioners voted in April to ask the county Board of Elections to schedule a referendum after local businessman Andy Grimsley told the board that he was circulating a petition that already had more than 500 signatures in support of allowing Fairmont voters to decide whether liquor-by-the-drink should be served in the town.
The county Board of Elections approved the request in May and referred it to the state Board of Elections.
Grimsley, who said he plans to open a restaurant in Fairmont, called the decision "good news for many people." He said that liquor-by-the-drink could help the town's economy by attracting restaurant chains and other businesses to Fairmont. And, he said, it would remove one obstacle to attracting industry.
"This certainly opens up the door for somebody to come in and offer services that the town hasn't been able to offer before," Grimsley said. "Fairmont is limited when it comes to offering a diversity of restaurants to choose from."
Commissioner Jeffrey McCree said that no one has expressed opposition to him since the issue was first brought up.
"We will take it to the polls where everybody will have an opportunity to voice their opinion," McCree said. "I believe if we get liquor-by-the-drink, we would get some of the nicer restaurants into Fairmont, which would certainly bring more revenue. It would be a good business opportunity."
Town Manager Ben Hill said that several residents and business leaders welcome mixed-drink sales but that the ultimate decision will be made by the voters.
"A lot of people like a mixed drink with their meal," Hill said. "Those folks who have been traveling all day may want to relax at a nice restaurant and have a mixed drink. And this could influence other people who may want to open a restaurant."
As to whether mixed-drink sales would benefit the town's economy, Hill said, "It won't hurt. It's got to help."
"This is only the beginning," McCree said. "We have the regional sewage treatment plant and if we can get county commissioners involved with the town, we can grow bigger and faster."
County Attorney Hal Kinlaw said the referendum will be drawn up on a separate ballot and the vote will be restricted to residents who live inside Fairmont's town limits. Because of short notice, the state board ordered that several notices be sent out to residents via local newspaper ads and WFMO, a radio station in Fairmont.
If a majority of voters support the referendum, Fairmont would be the third municipality in the county to approve the sale of mixed-drink sales in the last three years.
Lumberton voters approved the sale of mixed drinks in January 2000 and Maxton residents did so in March 2001.