Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 16, 2014

A 'wet' Olive Hill

Bootleggers may be biggest losers in Tuesday’s election

The Independent

OLIVE HILL — The approval of legal alcohol sales by Olive Hill voters Tuesday surprised even Nici Raybourn, who risked becoming a target of public criticism and scorn by boldly taking a leadership role in the unnamed group of residents who first circulated petitions calling for a special local option election on alcohol sales and then worked for its passage.

Their efforts bore fruit Tuesday when residents of the city rather convincingly  voted 257-206 to legalize alcohol sales in Olive Hill for the first time since 1937.

Of course, the majority of registered voters eligible to vote in the special election chose not to do so. Carter County Clerk Mike Johnston reported only 39 percent of the eligible voters took time to go to the polls Tuesday. If any of the 61 percent of eligible voters who did not vote are unhappy with the results, they have no one but themselves to blame. The minority who voted clearly let their views be known on the sale of alcohol in the small town; those who did not vote were saying they did not care. If nothing else, voting gives one the right to complain when the outcome is not what they like.

Tuesday’s results are yet another indication about how much public opinion on alcohol sales has changed in this region since 1981, when voters in four precincts in downtown Ashland voted to legalize alcohol sales. Before then, one had to drive to Ohio or West Virginia to legally by alcohol in this area.

Tuesday’s referendum marked the third time voters in Carter County have approved the legal sale of alcohol in the past six years. In 2008,  residents of the Iron Hill precinct near Carter City voted to allow the Rock Springs Winery and Vineyard to sell alcohol on its premises, and a year ago voters in Grayson ended decades of legal prohibition.

Raybourn, an Olive Hill native and West Carter High School graduate who moved back to her home town four years ago, said her primary reason for becoming involved in this always controversial issue  was to stop the illegal sale of alcohol in the city by making it legal.

“That was my biggest push. It (alcohol sales) is here but it’s been illegal. We wanted to get it out of minors’ hands,” she said.

We suspect many others voted for the legal sale of alcohol for the same reason. When alcohol sales are against the law in a community, but many, if not most, residents — including children — know exactly where booze can be purchased, it teaches a disrespect for the law that often extends  far beyond the sale of alcohol. In that regard, our hope is the biggest losers in Tuesday’s election in Olive Hill are the bootleggers who have profited for years in the small town. Once legal sales arrive in town, they should be put out of business, and those who do sell alcohol either follow the letter of the law or lose their license.

Thus, in a very real sense, Tuesday’s results were a victory for legal sales and a defeat for hypocrisy in Olive Hill.

Raybourn said legal alcohol sales also will allow the city to retain revenues now going to Grayson or other areas where alcohol is sold. That should help Olive Hill’s financial situation (City council members were forced to adopt a 0.5 percent payroll tax last fall to combat what Mayor Kenny Fankell termed the worst budgetary crisis in the town’s history).

“It’s not going to save it, but it will help,” Raybourn said, speculating the city might get additional retail business as a result of the alcohol vote. Raybourn said she is uncertain if the vote will result in any new restaurants in Olive Hill.

Just what impact alcohol sales will have on the economy of Olive Hill remains to be seen, but we don’t think it will a great deal. The small town is unlikley to attract any of the major chain restaurants that require liquor-by-the-drink sales, but it should help convenience stores and perhaps pizza restaurants that want to sell beer. 

Now that voters have approved the sale of alcohol, it is up to members of the Olive Hill City Council to enact an ordinance governing the sale of alcohol in the city.  A good place to start is to look at ordinances controlling the sale of alcohol in other small cities in the state. Work on the ordinance should begin immediately. Even those who did not support the sale of alcohol in the city have an interest in seeing it done properly.