One thing Somerset’s leaders can agree on: However Tuesday’s “wet/dry” option election goes, it will be in the hands of the voters. No one in any sort of office gets to decide the matter unilaterally.
However, that doesn’t mean that none of them have an opinion on how a “wet” Somerset — or one where the sale of alcohol is legal — might affect the town.
“It will be quite beneficial to the city if it passes, but if the voters decide that’s not what they want the city to do, we will continue on with the great progress we’ve been making,” said Eddie Girdler, mayor of Somerset.
When registered voters within the City of Somerset go to the polls this coming Tuesday, they will answer this question: “Are you in favor of the sale of alcoholic beverages in Somerset, Kentucky?”
Each side — pro- and anti-alcohol — has their own ideas about what the ramifications of that query might be, but Girdler knows his city government has to take action before anything else can happen.
“We have a plan in place, and we have 60 days to implement it,” he said. “We don’t see any problem with implementation (of an alcohol ordinance) if the voters decide that way.”
Girdler said that looking at cities surrounding Somerset that have gone “wet” — full sales of drinks and package liquor — or “moist” — allowing drink sales only in certain restaurants — “from a competitive standpoint, alcohol sales are a positive advantage.”
He added, “That’s other than the religious aspects to it but if you’re talking from an economic standpoint, (alcohol sales are) nothing but a tremendous boost … but a lot of people see it as a religious issue.”
Girdler said that the tentative plan the city has in place would have none of the tax or licensing revenue raised as a result of alcohol sales put into the town’s general fund. Instead, there are a few “primary programs” Girdler would like to see that money go toward: those assisting children, the elderly, and law enforcement.
“One, we’d definitely fund kids’ programs because a lot of agencies are struggling,” said Girdler. “We would allocate at least a third of (alcohol-based revenue) to programs so kids can participate. If we’re going to try to solve the drug problem, you can’t do it without getting kids involved in activities like sports, soccer, Cal Ripken League, summer programs, the water park.”
Also, “a lot of senior citizens programs are now beginning to suffer financial problems, like Meals on Wheels,” said Girdler. “Theoretically, we could take a third of (the alcohol money) and fund both senior citizens programs and kids programs and not have the strain of not having the programs or having limited funding.
“The third thing is having adequate jail facilities for those who do break the law,” he added. “We’re looking at all this, at which ways to use our funding to solve some of our problems, to make sure our senior citizens have adequate meals throughout the day. … We’re not taking sides at all, but we have a responsibility to look at it and determine what we’d do in that situation (if Somerset went ‘wet’).”
Girdler noted that Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control laws put a limit on the number of liquor stores a city can have based on population, and “this idea that we’d have one on every corner would not happen in any circumstance,” he said. “Those are things local ordinances control and govern, and would be strictly controlled.
“We’ve looked at how other cities have done their ordinances,” Girdler added. “… If it passes, the public would be fully protected.”
Much like the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Somerset Development Corporation, both of which the Commonwealth Journal spoke with earlier this week, the Somerset-Pulaski County Development Foundation, which assists businesses and industry in locating in Pulaski, and the Someret-Pulaski County Convention & Visitors Bureau, which promotes tourism in the area, aren’t taking a stand on the issue.
“We are staying out of it,” said Martin Shearer, executive director of the Development Foundation. “It was discussed in a board meeting (and) they decided not to take a position pro or con. That would be my official position as director as well.”
Shearer said that a “wet” Somerset would have “some positive effects but would have some negative effects to deal with as well. … In this case, with the situation generally and given past history, if it’s time the voters will say so, and if it’s not, they won’t.”
He added that “there is probably no role we would take,” as far as the Development Foundation if Somerset went “wet” and “it would just become another factor in any discussion.
“There are companies that have located here while it’s dry, there may be more companies (if ‘wet’), I don’t know. Each prospect has a value and from the standpoint of jobs, that is valued high or low by any prospect individually. It might mean something to Company A in the plus way that it might not mean to Company B.
“I cannot say that any of the prospects I’ve talked to have asked (about alcohol) in the community,” Shearer added regarding businesses considering locating into the area. “Maybe it’s because they already know the answer. Most prospects know a lot about the community before we meet them, and it’s possible that’s something they’ve already discovered.”
Carolyn Mounce, executive director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that her organization’s board is taking the stance that “it’s up to the voters — whatever the voter feels is good for the City of Somerset and the economy is perfect for tourism’s voice.”
Because the tourism board is made up of “seven individual thought processes … they want to remain neutral. Clearly, some of them could be very ‘pro’ (alcohol sales), but some of them could be ‘con.’”
However, Mounce noted that she often sees firsthand the impression that Somerset’s current “dry” status makes on those who are coming to town for the first time.
“We have a lot of visitors who come into our office and ask, ‘Where can we go to buy a six-pack of beer or have dinner with drinks?’” said Mounce. “Burnside is where we would send them (for drinks), but when I tell visitors that they would have to go to Richmond or Lancaster or Danville or Tennessee to purchase a six-pack, they do not understand that.
“We get asked that question a lot,” she added. “A lot of people just do not understand ‘dry.’”