Proactive approach needed in alcohol policy

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Editorial: Jan. 8, 2012

ISSUE: Alcohol banned from public property
OUR VIEW: Elizabethtown ordinance warrants review

It’s been two years since the Elizabethtown City Council tabled its conversation about relaxing alcohol restrictions at Pritchard Community Center, leaving in place a full ban of alcohol on city-owned property.

Since then, expanded alcohol sales passed with 60 percent of the vote. Multiple retailers have started selling beer and report brisk early sales. More businesses will be selling beer by the drink and, soon, package liquor sales will start.

As alcohol becomes more commonplace in the community, it’s reasonable to expect questions about exceptions at public venues such as Pritchard Community Center, the Historic State Theater and some limited admission events at Freeman Lake Park. While three Hardin County cities could face the issue, it’s most likely to surface in Elizabethtown.

Understanding there are intricate issues stemming from its availability on city property, this is the time to confirm whether alcohol has a place there.

Liability risks are a significant issue, for example, and the city or its entities should not sell alcohol, putting taxpayers on the hook for damages caused by irresponsible drinkers.

Beer, wine and liquor could spoil the family atmosphere of our community spaces, too.

Also to consider is the potential for alcohol as a financial tool for public venues. Relaxing the rules might help the community center attract private party business, for instance. And, particularly in the case of the Historic State Theater, we must consider if the public’s investment is risked if alcohol-friendly establishments move into downtown Elizabethtown.

There is much to weigh. With increased access and convenience comes complications. Some of those complications can be identified, some only can be imagined.

City officials should evaluate whether a case-by-case approach would yield benefits. Alcohol at youth sporting event? Absolutely not. At a private party or mature entertainment event? Possibly.

The community’s recreation and entertainment landscape likely will change and questions and requests for exceptions will come. Rather than a reactionary review, it makes sense for leaders to contemplate now the role, if any, city venues will play in that scene and have immediate answers for those individuals, business owners and event promoters.

With or without the developments in alcohol availability, the collective community might be too large for a blanket ban. It’s time to revist the policy, determine the opportunities and challenges and reaffirm or relax it.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.