With early voting starting in Boyd County Oct. 13, many voters may be befuddled when asked about the alcohol vote.
Last month, the Boyd County Board of Election confirmed that the petition for a wet/dry vote in the county at large will be a question on this year’s ballot. However, with limited sales districts — otherwise known as moist — in Ashland proper and along the U.S. 60 corridor in the county, the question on the vote means may vary from district to district.
Adding to that rub is the “Ashland Law” — a law regulating liquor sales in Kentucky for cities of more than 20,000 residents with special economic circumstances. In theory, the law could apply to other Kentucky cities, however since its passage in the 1980s, the only city to fit the bill in the entire Commonwealth has been where Coal and Iron Meet.
Don’t forget Catlettsburg, either — while no establishments in that town hold liquor licenses, it is still on a moist status.
To help voters along with what they may face on the ballot, The Daily Independent talked to County Attorney Phillip Hedrick and Ashland City Attorney Jim Moore.
‘Can get complicated’
Prefacing his explanation, Hedrick said the liquor laws in Kentucky are bit confusing compared to other neighboring states such as Ohio and West Virginia.
“There’s a lot more local control here, so it can get complicated,” Hedrick said. “If you look at the law, there’s the basic wet/dry status, but then you have your moist status, then you have all these exceptions and separate laws about golf courses, race tracks and private clubs. The state ABC (Alcohol Board of Control) pretty much stays out of issuing guidance or decisions on how these should be regulated.”
Hedrick said for all precincts outside of the Ashland moist districts, voters will decided whether the county should remain dry — meaning no alcohol is served at restaurants and no store may sell booze — or go wet.
The moist district along U.S. 60, which allows various restaurants to serve alcohol, will also have the same question, Hedrick confirmed. That moist designation means they must serve 70% food and 30% liquor and abide by certain seating capacities.
However, a vote for dry won’t affect that district’s status, the attorney said.
“In order for that district’s designation to change, it would have to have its own vote on whether or not it wants to remain moist or go dry,” Hedrick said.
The same goes for Catlettsburg — if the county decides to remain dry, its moist district would also remain unaffected.
However, if the county votes wet, those moist districts could opt into a full-blown wet district, Hedrick said.
That wet designation means there would be no food/booze sale ratio to maintain and the door would be open to package sales at gas stations, according to Hedrick.
However, if the county goes wet, don’t expect drinking holes to spring out of the ground like mushrooms in the spring. Hedrick said because of local control, the Fiscal Court still has to power to regulate the sale of booze in the county.
Inside the city of Ashland, things are little more complicated, according Moore. The city currently has three moist districts: Carp, Moore and Central. Like the moist districts outside the city, a dry vote in the county will not effect their status, Moore said.
Moore said voters in the Moore and Central precincts will be asked if they are in favor of continuing on as a limited sale precinct.
Because Carp went moist less than five years ago, residents there will not have a vote on any alcohol question — neither the county question, nor pertaining just to their district, Moore said.
Voters living outside any of those districts but in the city proper will vote on the question posed to all of Boyd County, Moore said.
As of right now, the city currently collects $558,500 in fees to administer over liquor sales inside its moist districts, according to Moore. Those fees are collected to pay for services such as police and fire, Moore said.
Moore stressed the city has taken no position on the alcohol vote in Boyd County. However, Moore did layout the scenarios of how the votes in the county and the city would affect Moore and Central Districts.
• County Goes Wet, Precincts Vote yes on remaining moist: Moore said if Central and Moore vote to remain limited sales districts and the county votes to go wet, the districts will continue to collect regulatory fees. All of the rest of Ashland would be wet, however local zoning laws would preclude alcohol serving establishments and stores from opening in residential areas. In theory, the city commission could choose to opt into the wet status, however Moore said this is highly unlikely because opting into that status for those districts would override the voters’ wishes and cede the regulatory fees to the state ABC.
• Boyd Goes Wet, the Precincts Vote No on remaining moist: This would cause Central and Moore to become full-blown wet, according to Moore. While Carp doesn’t have a vote in this election, the district could petition to have an election for it to move to the wet status as well. In this scenario — even with Carp remaining moist — the fee collected by the city is essentially lost.
• Boyd Stays Dry, the Precincts Vote Yes on remaining moist: Moore said this scenario would result in the status quo. Central and Moore will continue along as is and the city will continue collecting its fee.
• Boyd Stays Dry, the Precincts Vote No on remaining moist: This too would result in the status quo, according to Moore. The petition and the question posed to voters inside Moore and Central Districts is not a moist/dry vote for that district, it’s a question of whether or not they would like to go wet in the event the county goes wet, Moore said. There would have to be separate petition and vote to change these districts from moist to dry.
Moore said the take away for folks voting in the Central and Moore districts is if they are in favor of keeping the regulatory fees and the limited sales structure, they should vote yes on their question. If they are in favor having a complete wet status in the event of Boyd goes wet, they should vote no.
“This is not a wet/dry vote in those districts,” Moore said.
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