Originally created 06/02/04

County council discusses putting blue laws on ballot



An economic group has asked the Aiken County Council to let voters decide whether the county should continue to enforce its "blue laws," which ban the sale of nonessential goods before 1:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Lifting the ban would make the county more economically competitive and might attract new business, said Wade Brodie, the chairman of the Aiken Corp., an independent economic development partner with the city of Aiken.

"We're kind of the last of the Mohicans, if you come from other places in the United States," Mr. Brodie said in a telephone interview Tuesday night.

The county council discussed Aiken Corp.'s request in a work session earlier in the evening. Members swapped stories about how they'd walked into Wal-Mart on Sunday morning, only to be turned away at the cash register because the store couldn't sell goods other than groceries or medicine until later in the day.

"I went in there one day and couldn't get a tool," Councilman Chuck Smith said.

The Aiken Corp. is neutral on the issue, according to a letter it sent to the county, but says residents should be allowed to vote on the matter on a referendum in November.

The referendum wouldn't actually change the law, County Attorney Robert Bell said, but it could help guide the county council, which already has the authority to abolish the blue law.

Voters upheld the buying ban in a 1996 referendum, Mr. Bell pointed out.

Several council members said they'd entertain the idea but the timing was bad. Members voiced concern that people opposed to the blue laws also might vote against the 1-cent sales tax, which the county council approved putting on the November ballot Tuesday night.

"If we add something this controversial to the ballot, we could have a lot of people who would come out and vote no, who would vote no on other more important things," Councilman Scott Singer said.

The 1-cent sales tax, which is still being drafted by a six-member citizen committee, is projected to raise up to $100 million for projects like new parks and paved roads.

If passed, it would kick in about 2006, when the current 1-cent sales tax expires.

Mr. Singer said the city of Aiken itself should send a formal letter requesting the referendum before more debate happens. Council members decided to let its three-member Administrative Committee discuss the matter.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

Scott Singer: Councilman says putting blue laws on the ballot in November could be bad for other issues.