By JANIE SLAVEN
McCreary Countians who won’t be able to go to the polls on August 28 for the special alcohol option election may be eligible to take part in early voting beginning this Friday.
Since the election was announced, yard signs have begun to pop up around the county urging citizens to vote no (dry).
While the “vote yes” signs are fewer in number, a series of rallies has been scheduled in hopes of increasing support for alcohol sales.
The first was held Saturday evening at Sandhill Conservation Camp. The open-forum rally was organized by Derek Jones and attracted about 25.
Jones is a truck driver who is interested in improving the local economy. Claiming there are 50 vacant storefronts in the Whitley City community alone, Jones believes that legalizing alcohol sales could attract a distribution center for the still-vacant spec building at the industrial park in Pine Knot.
“I want people to see that building,” Jones said, adding that another rally has been scheduled there this Saturday at 5 p.m. “[Going wet] could increase our property tax rolls, sales tax revenues and occupational tax revenues.”
Scottie Morrow, the military veteran who spearheaded the petition to get the issue on the ballot, believes that the tax revenue could assist government services including additional deputies, replacing ambulances and improving roads.
“When I left here in 1973, we had clothing stores and more,” he said.
Morrow added that he is not interested in formally organizing a committee and seeking donations.
“What I want is for people to go to the radio or newspapers [for advertising],” Morrow said of potential donors.
Also speaking was Jeff Bryant, pastor of Redemption Way Church in Stearns, who said he was more concerned about curbing illegal alcohol sales.
“To me, it’s a far more dangerous issue,” Bryant said. “Bootleggers don’t card and they exist primarily because of our being a dry county.”
Citizen Dan Thiels added that the drug epidemic should be of more concern than alcohol sales.
Bryant said that he had to do a lot of soul-searching before breaking with church establishment, but he also questions how alcohol sales would impact the county if the option passes. Noting that McCreary is the only county in Kentucky without an incorporated city, Bryant told the group that “we can’t compare ourselves to anybody else.”
The pastor may have been referencing how much tax revenue the county may expect or the types of licenses available to local businesses.
The Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) regulates such licensing, which can be restricted by population and city classification. While the matter would be more thoroughly examined should the local option pass, ABC general counsel Stephen Humphress recently offered the Record a preliminary interpretation of current law.
While “package stores” could offer a full array of alcoholic beverages, bars would be limited to selling beer while restaurants and most retail stores would be limited to beer and wine due to the fact that McCreary County does not have a third-class city of at least 8,000 residents. A separate “moist” election would be required for restaurants to offer liquor by the drink.
But for any licensing questions to be considered, this option must first be passed. Mike Casada chairs Citizens for a Secure McCreary County, the primary group behind the dry campaign.
Casada questions proposed economic benefits, saying the county doesn’t have the capital needed to attract certain restaurant chains.
“Industries won’t base their decisions on whether a county is wet or dry,” he added, “but on proximity to the interstate, tax breaks and factors like that.”
Like Morrow, Casada denounced boycotting businesses supporting either side of the issue. The chairman added that claims of the Citizens group placing harassing phone calls to voters who signed the petition to put the issue on the ballot are “absolutely not true.”
“We’re just going to run our campaign and let the chips fall where they may,” Casada said.
The last time McCreary County voters considered the issue in February 1983, the measure was defeated by a margin of 4,620 to 1,503.