E'town alcohol vote fails

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Measure to access liquor drink licenses falls short

By Marty Finley

Alcohol sales have reached a ceiling in Elizabethtown, and opponents of expansion gave credit to a renewed effort of motivating voters as the reason for Tuesday’s success.

A second referendum in Elizabethtown to allow access to distilled spirits and wine by the drink for consumption on the premises failed, 1,529 to 1,244 in a vote that saw a historically low voter turnout.

Hardin County Clerk Kenny Tabb said the ballot question voted on Tuesday cannot return to voters within Elizabethtown for a minimum of three years.

The vote followed a petition effort by Yes for Economic Success to force a second vote, which was required because of the city’s fourth-class designation. Elizabethtown, Radcliff and Vine Grove held concurrent elections in October 2011 to expand alcohol sales, which passed overwhelmingly. The result gave Elizabethtown and Vine Grove access to malt beverage sales and package liquor licenses while Radcliff, a second-class city, reached full wet status.

John Board, pulpit minister for Elizabethtown Church of Christ, said he was pleased opponents came out to let their voice be heard and take part in shaping the city’s future. Board said a majority of voters sent a message of what they want their city to be.

The church purchased advertisements and utilized social media networks to rally voters.

“We hope that was helpful getting the vote out,” he said.

The October 2011 vote already expanded alcohol further than the church wanted, which Board pointed to as a reason for an increase in DUIs across the county.

He does not expect a decrease in drunken driving or alcohol-related violence because of the vote’s failure, but he believes it may ward off a steeper increase in this type of behavior.

“We feel it’s our duty as a church to get the word out to people,” Board said.

Kenny Rambo, a member of Y.E.S., said the group of local residents and economic development organizations were disappointed with the outcome but said it remains proud of the progress made in such a short amount of time, successfully expanding alcohol sales in the county’s three largest cities.

“So far, we’re three for four,” he said of alcohol elections.

But Rambo said the “convoluted” nature of the state’s alcohol laws and the city’s fourth class designation will force it to miss out on some positive economic opportunities.

Proponents of alcohol expansion have said the vote needed to pass to remove sales limits and seating restrictions from restaurants in downtown because most of the existing buildings do not have the space needed to accommodate 100 seats.

Heath Seymour, executive director of the Elizabethtown-Hardin County Heritage Council, said the failure will hamper downtown growth.

“It’s not going to stop us, but it will obviously slow things down because it limits what you can do downtown,” he said.

Yet Seymour said he is optimistic about what has been accomplished as the city nets around one new business per month in the downtown district.

Rambo and Seymour said the lack of supporters needed may be linked to an apathetic view toward the initiative because alcohol already is available throughout the city.

Rambo said he believes a lot of alcohol supporters already received what they wanted in the last election while this vote was more “nuanced” with a unique bend toward economic development.

Seymour agreed.

“We knew it would be close,” Seymour said.

The sale of alcohol at restaurants and liquor stores is not changed by Tuesday’s vote.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.