McCreary County Judge Executive Doug Stephens issued an executive order Tuesday calling for a countywide election on the possible sale of alcohol on March 8.
The order comes a week after a petition was turned in to County Clerk Eric Haynes’ office containing more than 900 signatures supporting the idea of holding a public vote to determine if alcohol sales would be permitted in McCreary County.
After receiving the petitions, Haynes turned it over to Stephens, who then returned them to the Clerk with the directive to verify the signatures to ensure enough registered voters supported the call for a vote.
The petition needed enough names to exceed 25 percent of the local votes cast in the last regular election, the 2015 General Election held in November. Only 2,118 votes were cast in that election: meaning only about 530 signatures were needed on the current petition.
After checking each name on the petitions, Haynes confirmed 703 valid signatures were included, more than enough to call for the election.
There was little doubt as to the outcome of the petition since Tony Hansford, one of several concerned citizens and businessmen who organized the drive, had personally verified the majority of the names to ensure enough signatures were included on the lists.
On Tuesday, March 8, all regular McCreary County polling places will be open for the purpose of the special election from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and early voting will be available in the County Clerk’s office at least 15 days prior to the election.
Mike Cash, Acting Superintendent of McCreary County Schools, has not yet determined if county schools will be closed on election day to prevent any potential issues during the voting. Two local schools, McCreary Middle and Pine Knot Primary, are used as polling places.
According to the Kentucky Alcohol Beverage Control Board, as of October 2015 McCreary County is one of 28 counties to be fully “dry.” 36 are “wet” while the remainder have some sort of alcohol sales in cities within the county.
The lone question on the ballot will be: “Are you in favor of the sale of alcoholic beverages in McCreary County?”
If the bill passes, the County Clerk will have to certify the vote. Once that is completed, and any legal challenges satisfied, the county would have 60 days to adopt an ordinance outlining the scope of the law.
The ordinance should cover licensing fees and requirements, and any additional taxes levied against the sale of alcohol. Additional regulations, such as operating hours and limits of sales can be included.
An Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would have to be appointed and an ABC Coordinator hired.
The Coordinator will be tasked with issuing licenses and monitoring businesses that receive a license to ensure all requirements are being met and no violations occur.
Applicants for a license must be 21 years of age or older, have no felony convictions in the past five years, no controlled substance crime-related convictions in the past two years and not have two alcohol-related misdemeanors in the past two years.
Any additional local taxes collected from alcohol sales would be earmarked toward enforcement and operating costs for the ABC office, law enforcement and emergency services, and education and prevention programs.
Persons or businesses wishing to apply for a license, must first submit an application to the county, with the appropriate fees, then, a detailed application would have to be sent to the state for approval as well.
There could be several types of licenses available for the local ABC Board to consider: Beer only, Beer and Liquor Package, Beer and Liquor by the drink, and Restaurant by the drink, would be the most likely to be considered in McCreary County.
Retail Beer licenses will have no quota, unless set by local ordinance, allowing grocery stores and convenience stores to apply for a license. They will be permitted to sell beer as long as they maintain $5,000 worth of food in their inventory.
Only about seven Beer and Liquor package licenses would be available in McCreary County due to state regulations based on population. Until last month, only drug stores and stand-alone package stores could apply for such a license.
However, a recent Kentucky Supreme Court ruling overturned that law, and now grocery stores can apply for one as well. Package stores could sell beer, wine and distilled spirits.
Full bars or nightclubs that serve liquor will most likely not be permitted to operate in the county since those establishments are only allowed in counties with a first, second or third class city.
But, a beer-only bar could possibly be opened as long as it met local requirements and enough licenses were available.
Restaurants may be able to apply for a beer or liquor by the drink license as long as they can seat at least 100 people and derive 50 percent of their revenue through food sales. Only about seven of those licenses will be available due to regulations as well.
The last time alcohol sales was put to a countywide vote, in August 2012, the measure failed by just 47 votes, one percent of the nearly 5,000 total votes cast in the election.
Last fall voters in Stearns approved the limited sale of alcohol in the Downtown Historic District.
Judge Stephens estimates the cost of holding the election will be about $25,000.