By Greg Bird
The third time appeared to be the charm for
supporters of a “wet” McCreary County as a resolution calling for the legalization of alcohol sales passed Tuesday night by just under
Unofficial vote totals posted by McCreary County Clerk Eric Haynes’ Office show 2,457 county voters supported legalizing sales, while 2,176 voted against. The “yes” voters carried 35.03 percent of total votes cast for a seven-percent margin of victory.
Three years ago, the last time a county-wide vote was held on the issue, the “no” vote won by less than one-percent of the vote total, a similar margin to the 2012 vote.
Even with the election over and the issue decided, there apparently is already movement from the opposition to repeal the vote.
Haynes said he was already approached by at least on citizen asking on the process to hold a new vote to counter the latest election.
It would be at least three years before such a vote could be held, as the process to repealing “wet” status is the same as for voting it in. A petition will have to be circulated and verified before such a vote could be held.
Tony Hansford, the citizen who submitted a successful petition to have the alcohol question placed on the ballot, and had been the public face behind efforts to promote the legalization of alcohol, said he was happy with the results and wanted to give the voters the chance to have the option to buy locally.
”I’m glad it’s finally here,” Hansford said shortly after the final results were tabulated. “Now it is time for the Fiscal Court to get the ball rolling and get moving forward.”
The next steps in the process will be up to the Fiscal Court, as an ordinance will need to be drafted and passed detailing licenses and other fees, as well as appointing an Alcoholic Beverage Control Administrator to oversee the sales. It will take 60-days for McCreary County to officially become “wet,” and a framework of how it will look should be in place by then.
Judge Executive Jimmie Greene said he will seek guidance from the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission on how to proceed and expected the topic to be on the agenda at next week’s Fiscal Court meeting. (See accompanying article “What’s next for McCreary Alcohol sales” for more information on what that could be.)
By state law the County can impose a regulatory fee on alcohol sales, with the revenue from those fees going toward administrative costs and additional law enforcement expenses.
Sheriff Randy Waters said Tuesday night he would wait and see what that will mean for his office, but hoped it would allow him the opportunity to hire additional deputies. He also admitted it would take time to adjust to the new reality of legalized sales.
“I think it will be an experience for the Sheriff’s Department for the first year or so,” he said. “This will be the first time the County will be wet since the World War II era.”
Just 12 of McCreary County’s 18 precincts saw a majority of voters answer “yes” to the question, but the race was close in all but two. Stearns, who voted two years ago to limited alcohol sales in the historic district, and North Whitley were the only two precincts where there was more than a 90-vote difference.
Otter Creek, with a 6-vote difference and Wiborg, with an 8-vote difference, saw the smallest margins of victory in the County.
Six districts, Smithtown, Co-op, Wolf Creek, Bethel, Elm and East Pine Knot, voted against sales overall, but only Wolf Creek and East Pine Knot appeared to do so decisively – with more than 70-vote difference.
It appeared voters stance on the issue softened in those districts over the past three years. In 2016 the vote difference in those areas slipped a little: from 112 to 72 in Wolf Creek and from 128 to 84 in East Pine Knot.
Interestingly, not every voter who cast a ballot Tuesday night voted in the local referendum. Of 4,809 ballots cast in the election, only 4,633 voted either for or against alcohol sales – meaning 176 chose not to pick a side in the issue.