Wet or dry…time to decide.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that West Liberty will be holding an election this Tuesday, January 22 to decide on the sale of alcohol within city limits. I had thought that maybe I’d not write anything about it. I know where I stand…I know where others stand…and I know that probably no matter what anyone says at this point, minds and votes are already decided.
Then I started thinking that if I ever want this site to grow and become a reliable source for news and information in this county, maybe I should chime in on what is turning out to be a story that could be one of the biggest this year and could possibly shape the face of our city and county for years to come. I started writing and ended up with some big long page about where I stand and why, but after looking at it again, I think I’m going to keep this simple with a few talking points that I think highlight this issue and this election (fair warning: I ended up rambling on again!). So here goes.
- People who want to drink are going to drink, whether they buy it here or somewhere else, that much we know. There’s probably a few folks reading this right now with a beer or glass of wine sitting beside them. To assume that more people will start drinking if the town goes wet makes no sense, and keeping the city dry will not somehow cure those who already have a drinking problem.
- As it stands now, really the only people in this county who do not have easy access to alcohol are the people who live in town! Think about it…you can get alcohol just across the line in what is basically Maytown…Hazel Green…Salyersville…Morehead… Paintsville…Helechewa…if you live in pretty much any direction outside the city of West Liberty, you are closer to alcohol sales now than anyone IN the city itself, and you are potentially closer to it than you would be if the city went wet. I know there has been a fair amount of opposition to the city going wet coming from outside the city. I wonder if those folks have considered that?
- The Judge’s column in this week’s paper pointed out that alcohol sales in neighboring counties has not really been a benefit to those areas economically, but that’s not exactly true. In particular, Buffalo Wild Wings wanted assurances in Morehead that they would allow liquor sales by the drink (not just beer or wine), as well as Sunday alcohol sales, before deciding to open there. Without them opening, it is doubtful the movie cinema beside them would have opened. And it is in no small part thanks to BW’s that the city was able to make a convincing case to the Cracker Barrel folks that a store could thrive in Morehead, despite the city having a lower population than the company typically prefers before they open one.
- There were also a few statements in the paper that seemed to indicate that due to alcohol sales, surrounding areas have had to hire on more law enforcement to deal with the troubles it causes. I would say that the need for more law enforcement in those areas has been more related to the growth of those cities, not due to the sale of alcohol. Mt. Sterling, Paintsville, Morehead…they have all continued to expand with new businesses over the past decade or so. Some of those items include Mt. Sterling opening a brand new hospital, and Morehead adding a super Wal-Mart and filling several vacant business spaces both in town and at the old Trademore and Pinecrest shopping centers. Those things are signs of growth. And while alcohol sales may not have had anything to do with it, growth brings the need for expanded services, which would necessarily include law enforcement.
- Also, all these folks opposed to the city going wet…I sure hope they aren’t eating or frequenting any establishments that sell alcohol now. That just wouldn’t make sense, would it??
All that being said, I don’t expect there to be a huge economic gain right away if the city goes wet, but I do think it could help. Here are some figures that are interesting:
- Ashland alone generates over $450,000 for their general fund due to a 3.5% tax on alcohol sales.
- Morehead’s revenue tax of 3% on liquor sales generates $125,000 per year plus $14,000 in permit license fee revenue all of which goes into the general fund and help the police force.
- Over $200,000 is generated each year in Madisonville through this tax which provides equipment and additional funding for the police force and firemen
Those numbers are from an older article (found here), so the revenue numbers have almost certainly increased since then.
That article also points out that in many cases, businesses and industry will decide to bypass a city or county that is dry in favor of one that is wet, and it gives specific examples. In particular it cites a developer wanting to build a cinema complex in Western Kentucky but ruling out any dry counties as potential locations. The reason wasn’t that they themselves wanted to sell alcohol, but the availability of it is a draw for people who want to go out and make an evening of having a nice dinner and drinks and seeing a show after.
Again, I won’t pretend to think that West Liberty is getting a BW’s or a an Applebee’s or a Kia factory just because we go wet, but I would make an argument that by at least having the option to sell alcohol, it makes the community more desirable to business interests, even if folks here argue that it tarnishes our image. I would suspect that by going wet, we’d have a Mexican restaurant open in town by the end of the year. That would be a signal that outside businesses are willing to invest in our future and believe in our growth.
As for the image and appeal of our town, I can see how some may think that the appearance of beer signs and neon in the windows of stores and restaurants may not be all that appealing. I think that West Liberty has a certain charm to it, and I don’t want to lose that…but is it any more dangerous to put up beer posters than it is to advertise 10 candy bars for a dollar or cheap McRibs and $5 pizzas? Or what about cigarettes, which kill far more people each year than alcohol? Where are the door signs and newspaper ads about how many lives and families obesity or tobacco has destroyed? Take a look at this graphic, which can be found here:
Alcohol destroys FAR fewer lives than obesity and tobacco, yet we can all easily grab a pack smokes, a pop, a cheeseburger, and a pop tart. Granted, you are not likely to see any sort of tragic accidents result from doing any of those things, but long term, the effects are far worse. So where are the yard signs speaking out against the damaging effects of cigarettes, or the parades through town calling out the evils of sugary sodas and Big Macs?
Listen, I can respect why some folks would prefer to not see alcohol sales in the city, and I’m trying to avoid being snide about this. Alcohol does have a stigma attached, and I know that many people have had bad personal experiences with it and would just prefer it not be sold here. But I have also read stories from places where a city or county voted to go wet, and when they interview folks later on who were opposed to it before the election, many of those same people have reversed course and admit that it isn’t all that bad, and in fact, may be even better.
So opposing views are fine…they are natural. What is NOT OK are the scare tactics that some folks have resorted to in order to try and sway votes against going wet. I drive home from Morehead every day, and I don’t encounter any drunks or hungry children laying in the streets. I’m through Campton and Mt. Sterling fairly frequently and have yet to notice any there, either. I also think it is wrong to try and use the tornadoes as a tool to sway opinion…to suggest that they have brought us all so close together and SHAME on any of us that even consider voting for alcohol sales at a time like this is just plain dirty. I agree, the storms brought this county closer together in some ways, but it has brought about quite a bit of division, as well, due to some of the questionable decisions that have been (and continue to be) made, regarding a wide variety of things, financial and otherwise, that will affect the future of this city and county.
I don’t know if approving alcohol sales in West Liberty will be its savior, but I’m certain it won’t be its downfall. It will open a door to new revenue and likely lead to several new businesses opening here in a short amount of time (and I’m sure we will all come back here and discuss smelly politics again after we see who gets the green light to open the one package store we’ll be allowed). We were a close, charming town and county before the tornadoes hit, and we’ll continue to be a close and charming town and county, regardless of the outcome of this election. No doubt the storms brought us closer together, but you know what else might bring us closer?? Sharing a big margarita at the Mexican restaurant we’ll no doubt get once the town goes wet. First round is on me.