FARMINGTON — Restaurants in San Juan County will soon be able to serve a glass of wine with a steak or a beer with a burger.
Voters in unincorporated San Juan County on Tuesday passed a measure that will allow the state of New Mexico to issue beer and wine licenses -- also called restaurant licenses -- to qualifying restaurants in unincorporated areas of the county. That includes land outside of Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield and the Navajo Nation.
The measure passed 458-311, according to unofficial results from the San Juan County Clerk's Office.
Chris Taylor, the owner and lead fly-fishing guide for Fisheads, petitioned the county to call the special election after county commissioners last year denied to call for a vote. Fisheads includes the guide service, lodge and restaurant in the town of Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.
"It's outstanding," Taylor said of the outcome of the election. "It will certainly stop the surprised reactions we saw when (customers) learned they couldn't order a beverage with dinner."
Taylor said beer and wine sales will make his restaurant -- which offers the only fine-dining experience near the river below Navajo Dam -- more profitable and possibly lead to an expansion.
To force the election, Taylor had to gather the signatures of 5 percent of registered voters in unincorporated San Juan County, which was 1,944 people.
That was ultimately more than four times the 458 voters who cast a ballot in favor of the measure.
At a polling place in Blanco, which was the closest polling place to Navajo Dam, people voted 71-9 in favor of the ordinance, said San Juan County Clerk Debbie Holmes.
At polling places in Newcomb, Kirtland, Shiprock and Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle, voters were against the measure 36-8, 50-34, 10-8 and 19-5, respectively, she said.
In all, 769 people cast a ballot in the election, which is 1.97 percent of registered voters in unincorporated areas.
"The turnout was a little low," Holmes said.
The most recent single-issue election in San Juan County was for approval of an emergency medical services gross receipts tax, which resulted in a 5.83 percent voter turnout, she said. She said Tuesday's election will cost the county about $50,000.
Beer and wine licenses allow restaurants with wait staff to sell beer or wine with food as long as they meet certain conditions, such as closing by 11 p.m. and having at least 60 percent of gross receipts come from food sales.
Unlike liquor licenses, beer and wine licenses cost $1,050 per year, plus a $200 application fee, according to the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department's website.
Liquor licenses are much more expensive. Tres Martin, Ltd. sold a liquor license to Western Refining Southwest for $450,000 in March 2012, which was the most recent liquor license transaction in San Juan County, according to state records.
In New Mexico, voters in all municipalities with more than 5,000 people have to vote to allow beer and wine licenses in their district. San Juan County became the 90th district in the state to allow the licenses. There are still 24 districts that have not held the election, according to state records.
Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield voters have approved the licenses, according to the records.
Lynette Gomez, who lives west of Bloomfield, voted in favor of beer and wine licenses on Tuesday.
"I believe our local restaurants need all the help we can get," she said. "This will increase their income."
She said the licenses may lead to more restaurants in Flora Vista, Crouch Mesa and other communities in unincorporated areas besides Navajo Dam.Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.