August 29, 2014 10:11:36 AM
Oktibbeha County Sheriff Steve Gladney wants residents and visitors to safely enjoy the start of Mississippi State University's home football season this weekend and be mindful of all city and county alcohol laws.
Starkville's roads and outlying county highways began to swell with cars today as football fans arrived for Saturday's game against Southern Miss. Gladney said his department will utilize grant funding to help cover overtime hours as additional manpower is added to the roads through Sunday.
The sheriff urges all residents and visitors to refrain from driving if they have consumed alcohol and riding with others who've also been drinking. Law enforcement agents are expected to utilize safety checkpoints throughout the weekend.
Since the turn of the century, Starkville first allowed cold beer sales in convenience and grocery stores - it was previously sold warm - then implemented Sunday alcohol sales during restricted hours
The county, however, continues to prohibit beer possession in its outlying areas.
Complicating the matter is the fact that numerous football fans bring both beer and hard liquor to campus during MSU home football games. Even though university is mostly situated in the outlying county territory, Gladney says 100 percent enforcement of the beer law is practically unobtainable when crowds swell beyond 50,000 each game.
"You'd fill up 50 jails if you tried," Gladney said.
Despite the varying laws that residents and visitors to campus alike experience, MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said the university does its very best to observe all local, county and state laws.
"We encourage people to be smart, be responsible and take care of their friends," Gladney said. "Don't ruin your or someone else's weekend."
Beyond a Styrofoam cooler filled with contraband Natural Light cans in MSU's Junction, Oktibbeha's beer law could become a point of discussion as more and more county investments and construction projects begin around campus.
Aspen Heights, a major student housing project, opened this year in the Blackjack community, and more apartment complexes are expected to open before the start of the 2015-2016 academic year. Supervisors previously approved a tax increment financing (TIF) district comprised of the developments that will facilitate road improvement bonds for the area once the projects are assessed and hit the tax rolls.
As large residential clusters continue to develop around campus, other retail investments could follow. Restrictive alcohol laws, however, could keep some chains and self-starters from opening up shop.
A public call to revise the local beer rule came earlier this year during a public hearing on Oktibbeha County's comprehensive planning efforts, but a draft of the document does not address the matter.
District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer, who serves as the county board's president, said he was unopposed to looking at the positives and negatives with changing the law. Trainer, who serves as a church leader, says he's not an advocate for drinking but he understands the economic impact looser restrictions could bring to the area.
"As much of a progressive, forward-thinking community as we are, our law almost seems hypocritical. We do have a lot of people in Oktibbeha County that possess beer outside of Starkville, and we have no real way of enforcing it. We already have beer in the county, but we don't have beer outside of the city limits. It has to come through the county to get here," he said. "I have what I call my own standards and morality, but the gist of the issue is it seems unusual to be able to possess it (in Starkville) and then not be able to a few steps past the city limits sign."
Trainer said he welcomes public comments on the issue, but District 2 Supervisor and board Vice President John Montgomery said the matter is unlikely to garner any traction during this term.
Like city aldermen, supervisors' discussions on alcohol can lead to divisive public stances. County officials are up for election in 2015.
Starkville representatives previously attempted to debate setting the city's limits for alcohol sales by the drink near churches and schools to the 150-foot maximum mandated by state law. Despite convenience and liquor stores' ability to sell within the same parameters, discussions for easing restaurant sales to similar dimensions were nixed before the public had the ability to weigh in on the issue.
When aldermen approved limited Sunday alcohol sales in 2009, discussions spurred some of the most contentious debate in the prior administration's term.
Even Starkville's changing outlook on alcohol has impacted business, as many developers and officials point to Spring Street's Buffalo Wild Wings' location as an example of a restaurant that committed to Starkville because of Sunday sales.
Trainer said he is interested in researching the impact of what legal beer possession in the county would do for residents and businesses alike. A coordinated effort by activists could, he said, at least yield frank discussions on the issue.
Whether or not the board takes up the matter or pushes it to the polls, however, is still unclear, he said.
"I want to see the data and see exactly what possibilities are. We have to give people the opportunity to at least have input on the issue," Trainer said after admitting several constituents have approached him in favor of loosening the county's beer rules.
"If it comes to a referendum and there are enough people organized to push the issue right, I think it could happen," he added. "Some will like it, but others won't. We're in a place that has a lot of people from outside of the county come and visit. When they see our beer law, they probably ask questions because it is so unusual."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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