Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 20, 2013

An added tool

Alcohol sales could bolster economy of Greenup County

The Independent

ASHLAND — Greenup County voters should give their approval to the legal sale of alcohol in the county and trust their elected leaders in the county’s eight incorporated cities and in county government to enact the ordinances to properly control the sale of that alcohol in both restaurants and in package liquor stores.

If voters approve the sale of alcohol, we don’t think it will be the major economic shot in the arm that its most avid supporters think it will be. Nor do we think alcohol sales will have the devastating impact on the county that its leading opponents foresee.

Instead, the legal sale of alcohol will be a tool that could spur economic development   in the county, especially along U.S. 23. We suspect the  impact of alcohol sales will not even be noticed by most residents of the county. They may be able to have a beer, glass of wine or a mixed drink at a few restaurants in the county and may have to  drive a shorter distance to purchase whiskey or rum at a package store or beer at a supermarket or convenience store, but beyond that, life will go on pretty much as it now is.

Don’t expect to see Red Lobster, Reno’s, Dakota’s or other large chain restaurants being built in Greenup, South Shore, Flatwoods, Wurtland and other communities in the county. Those communities are not large enough to support such establishments.

Russell voters overwhelmingly approved a “moist” referendum in 2008 allowing the sale of liquor by the drink in restaurants that seat at least 100 and receive 70 percent of their income from non-alcohol sales. While we still expect that vote to eventually attract some restaurants along U.S. 23 near the Ashland city limits, it hasn’t happened yet. To date, Russell has received no economic advantages from going “moist” and the same thing could happen in all of the county if voters approve going “wet.” The promise of alcohol sales are simply a tool to attract economic development. How well it works depends on a lot of factors, including the local and U.S. economy

To listen to Mike Wilson, Greenup County attorney, and  Melvin Leonhart, the commonwealth’s attorney for Greenup and Lewis counties, voter approval of Tuesday’s referendum will have all sorts of dire consequences in Greenup County. Don’t believe it. Their claims are mostly unfounded “scare tactics” used to build opposition by making wild claims that are simply false.

“Don’t be deceived … you are going to see the Dew Drop Inn out here. Any person that has a shed is going to throw up a neon sign and get a license and sell alcohol. I don’t want to see that at the corner of Route 2 and W-Hollow or any place,” Leonhart said.

Oh really? Under state law, licenses for liquor by the drink establishments are only available in first-, second-and third-class cities. Flatwoods is the county’s only third class city. Under the statute, a fourth-class city  could eventually get licenses, but it would need to hold a second, separate election to do so.

As we said, Russell, a fourth-class city, already has had an election to allow liquor by the drink at large restaurants. Dives along country roads would be prohibited. Of course, as lawyers, Leonhart and Wilson probably knew that, but they chose to scare good people with false claims. Shame on them. There are plenty of legitimate issues on which to debate the wisdom of alcohol sales without making false claims.

If Greenup County votes to go “wet” six different types of licenses would be available in the county, but in limited numbers in many instances. In addition, only certain licenses can be obtained and used in certain areas of the county based on population and city status.

It should be noted that a number of liquor licenses for both retail restaurants and package stores remain available in the two Ashland precincts, and large restaurants selling liquor by the drink could be located throughout the county. For the most part, it is “supply and demand” that is determining the number of businesses selling alcohol in Ashland and Boyd County, not the number of licenses available. We suspect the same thing would occur in Greenup County. We don’t now how many restaurants offering liquor by the drink or how many package stores would open in Greenup County if the referendum is approved, but we do know there will be no Dew Drop Inn on Ky. 2 and  no hole-in-the wall  bars in Greenup and Wurtland.