By Greg Bird
The deadline for the petition to legalize alcohol sales in McCreary County is less than a month away and organizers behind the drive are closing in on their goal.
In a post this week on the McCreary County Alcohol Election discussion page on Facebook Tony Hansford stated that nearly 1,100 signatures have already been collected on various petitions being circulated around the county, but the effort is about 300 signatures short of the intended target to have the question placed on the ballot this fall.
The post encourages those who support the drive to open up alcohol sales locally to sign the petitions if they haven’t already.
“As of now, we have nearly 1,100 signatures on the petitions,” the post reads.” In order to get this on the ballot we need better than 300 more. I wanted to remind everyone that hasn’t, please go sign.”
The post lists several businesses where the petitions have been placed, including: Larry’s Somerset Oil, Becky’s One Stop, Fast Way, the American Legion, R&J Game Room, Speedco/Big Johns and Dairy Cheer.
Hansford asks anyone with questions or concerns on the ballot to contact him via a private message on Facebook.
Under new alcohol vote-related laws passed in 2017 in the Kentucky legislature a completed petition must be turned in to the County Clerk’s office no later than the second Tuesday in August to be considered for placement on the November ballot.
Any petition must contain signatures of at least 25 percent of voters in the last General Election held locally. That election, held last November, saw 5,251 voters head to the polls – meaning a petition would need at least 1,313 valid names and signatures.
If the signatures are collected, and enough qualify as registered voters, a question will be added to the ballot in the November: The petition reads: “We the undersigned registered voters hereby petition for an election on November 5, 2019 on the following question: ‘Are you in favor of the sale of alcoholic beverages in McCreary County, Kentucky?’”
If another alcohol vote is to be held this fall it would undoubtedly be close.
In 2016, the last county-wide vote on the issue, 3,914 voters turned out for the special election, with a 32-vote margin deciding the issue. In 2012, the time previous, more than 5,000 citizens voted, with similar results – a 47-vote difference. The margin in both elections was less than one percent, leading many to think a third election may make the difference.
The 2012 election was rife with controversy and rancor from both sides of the argument, but the following referendum was much more calm with less harsh words from proponents and opponents alike. In the end, 11 of McCreary County’s 18 precincts were in favor of legalizing alcohol sales, but the “no” votes in the other seven were enough to carry the day in favor of “dry.”
According to the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control only 15 counties in Kentucky are completely dry – meaning no sales of alcohol are permitted. 46 counties are “wet”, while the remaining 59 are considered “moist” – meaning either individual cities within the county boundaries have opted to sell alcohol in restaurants or package sales, or a special designation of state park, historical district or winery allows for limited sales.
McCreary County is one of the “moist” areas as Historic downtown Stearns and the Stearns Golf Course used such a vote in 2014 to offer limited alcohol sales. That vote, held only in the Stearns voting precinct, saw “yes” votes prevail, 221-194.
While required to collect taxes on alcohol sales in the special district, those funds do not go to the County, but rather the state.
According to KRS 242 only counties and cities can consider a “wet” or “limited restaurant” local option. At the precinct level the options are limited to certain business types and those can only be considered “moist.”
Precinct-level local option elections can only be considered for: golf courses, small farm wineries, qualified historic sites, state parks, horse race tracks and distilleries.
If the petition is successful, and voters approve the measure in November, the County would have to establish its own ABC Board, which would be responsible for outlining the exact parameters of alcohol sales locally. The Board could establish a limited number of locations eligible to sell beer, wine or spirits in package sales. It could also outline restrictions or prohibitions on bars or restaurants.