By Greg Bird
With the passage of the question to allow alcohol sales in McCreary County last week, the Fiscal Court has a lot to learn, in a relatively short time. Sixty days after the election the county officially becomes “wet” and the framework need to be in place for the issuance of licenses and the policing of the local ordinance.
But, even after that 60-days are completed, the county will not be able to issue licenses right away. State law requires a process for license applications, which includes advertising the intent to obtain a license and requiring a 30-day period to elapse to allow for challenges to the license. Any licensee will also need to obtain a state license, as well as a county license, and those cannot be applied for until the local process has begun.
Conceivably, it will be the middle of February before the first county alcohol license is approved and granted.
In the coming weeks the McCreary County Fiscal Court will have to determine what types of alcohol sales can be permitted in the county, and establish the framework to ensure those locations that gain a license do so properly.
County Judge Executive Jimmie Greene has already contacted the state Alcohol Beverage Commission for guidance on what steps lay ahead for the County. He was furnished with information detailing the process, and what types of licenses can be issued. He was also provided a sample ordinance that could be passed.
Greene added he has already received numerous calls from individuals inquiring about obtaining licenses or how to apply for the ABC Administrator position, but he advises there are several things that need to happen before those things can occur.
One of the first things the Fiscal Court will have to do is establish an ordinance detailing the legal parameters of what types of sales that can be allowed, and the license and fees associated.
Greene said he and his staff have already begun the process of putting together a potential ordinance, but would likely hold some sort of working session with the Magistrates to hear feedback and make changes, if any, before any first vote on the ordinance could be held.
It is probable that the Fiscal Court will not hold the first reading of the ordinance until the December meeting, and call for a special session before the end of the year to conduct the second reading.
In the interim Judge Greene said he is still researching some of the trickier aspects of the state statutes to determine what can and can not be added to the local ordinance.
The county could enact some restrictions on certain aspects of sales, such as limiting distance from schools for sales, and not allow Sunday sales.
State law already prohibits the sale of alcohol on Sundays, and between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. The county could establish an ordinance extending the hours and allowing Sunday sales with an additional license if they so desire.
The ordinance would also have licensing costs, and regulatory fees included. In addition to a state license, local businesses would have to obtain a local license to sell as well. The county can set a fee for a license up to $1,000, and can only impose a 5 percent regulatory fee.
Other aspects of the state law cannot be overridden by county ordinance.
A position for the County ABC Administrator would need to be created by the Fiscal Court and appointed by the Judge Executive. (The Judge could serve in the role if he so desired.)
This position would be responsible for issuance and review of all county licenses, as well as collecting all regulatory fees. The administrator would also be responsible for inspecting businesses to ensure they comply with the law.
Additional positions, such as a deputy administrator, could be created and appointed as well to assist the administrator in performing their duties.
The first year of alcohol sales will be a time of uncertainty for the county, as there will be no basis to predict how many licenses will be issued, and how much revenue can be expected from licensing and regulatory fees. Those fees must be kept in a special account and can only be used for administration and policing in regards to alcohol sales.
Next comes the question of what types of alcohol licenses could be issued by the county.
According to the state ABC office, here are some of the more probable licenses that could be seen in McCreary County:
A Quota Retail Package license would allow for the establishment of liquor stores, available to sell wine and spirits for carry-out. A separate license must be obtained to sell beer. Due to McCreary County’s population, the total number of these licenses would be limited to about 7 overall. (One license for every 2,300 population.)
Quota Retail Package types of licenses cannot be issued to grocery or convenience stores unless they operate a separate store with it’s own entrance and not accessible from within the grocery itself.
Quota Retail Drink – This license would allow restaurants to sell beer, wine or spirits by drink. Again, there would only be a limited amount of such licenses available (one per every 2,500 of population.) There is no restriction on seating and food sales for such a license.
Non-quota-2 Retail Drink – Unlike the quota license mentioned above, this license can not be prohibited by the county, but comes with certain restrictions. The license could be awarded to restaurants with more than 50 seats and with 50 percent of their sales derived from food sales. Such a restaurant can sell beer, wine and spirits by the drink. There is no limit to the number of such licenses available.
Non-quota Retail Malt Beverage Package – This license allows convenience stores to sell beer by the package for carry-out only. The restriction for such an establishment would be for that location to carry more than $5,000 in food-related inventory to qualify. There is no limit to the number of such licenses that can be issued.
Non-quota-4 Retail Malt Beverage Drink – This license allows an establishment to sell beer by the drink – typically a restaurant that only wants to sell beer by the drink. There is no limit to the number of such licenses that can be issued.
Other licenses, such as temporary, microbrewery, caterer and wholesaler could also be available. Special licenses, such as the qualified historic site license and limited golf course license already in place in Stearns, could also fall under the direction of the county ordinance. Previously they needed only a license from the state to operate.
There still is a lot of work to be done, and many questions to be answered before McCreary County sells its first beer as a wet county.