Oldham County Moist Vote

Chamber on board for initiative

‘Moist’ vote requires over 4,200 signatures
for fall referendum

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (August 2003) – Oldham County residents may have a decision to make about alcohol sales in the now-dry county if the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce collects enough signatures on the petition it is currently circulating. By the end of July, the chamber had collected more than 1,500 signatures of the 4,252 needed by early September in order to have the issue put to vote in November.

Joe Schoenbaechler

Oldham County
Chamber president
Joe Schoenbaechler

While the majority of votes were against alcohol sales when the question was last posed in the county in 1987, demographic and legislative changes that have occurred since that time have rekindled interest in the issue. Those include a revision made to local option laws by the General Assembly allowing Kentucky counties to legalize the sale of alcoholic beverages only in restaurants that seat 100 or more and that derive at least 70 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of food.
“Prior to 2000, you were either wet or dry,” said chamber president Joe Schoenbaechler.
Counties now have the option of becoming “moist,” allowing alcohol sales by the drink in larger restaurants only and prohibiting package sales. It is the question of whether Oldham should become a moist county that the chamber hopes to see posed to voters this fall.
Concerns of members prompted the chamber to take the lead in sponsoring the petition to add the moist vote to the ballot, according to chamber board president Ed Hovan. When Oldham County became dry in the late 1940s, the distribution of alcohol was a moral issue. Now it appears to be more of an economic one. While the county’s residential population has been growing steadily, its retail, industrial and commercial base has failed to keep pace.
“The consensus of the chamber was that we felt that this would be good for the county, both for businesses and residents,” said Hovan. Hovan cited recent surveys that indicated 66 percent were in favor of putting the issue to vote.

Ed Hovan

Chamber Board
president Ed Hovan

While allowing restaurants that seat more than 100 to sell alcohol would benefit only a couple of restaurants currently doing business in the county, it would likely attract new ones. And not just restaurants, but the other retail and entertainment outlets that go along with them.
“The advice that we’ve had and the experience we’ve seen from other communities is that economic development is encouraged, both commercial and industrial, in those communities where the serving of alcoholic beverages is permitted,” said Oldham County Economic Develop-ment Authority chairman Fran Scott. Scott said that OCEDA therefore supports the initiative of the chamber to get the issue put on the ballot, allowing voters the final say.
Schoenbaechler said that the primary response to the chamber’s proactive stance on the issue has been positive, but that there are still some who are against alcohol sales of any sort.
“It’s a bit of an emotional issue. As soon as you tell people what you’re doing, they’re either obviously in favor of it or obviously not. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground,” he said.
According to Hovan, some are opposed to allowing alcohol sales in restaurants because they believe it would quickly lead to package sales in the county. Hovan said such a fear is unwarranted.
“It does not automatically mean that we will eventually go wet,” Hovan said. “To go to wet from moist we would have to go through the same process with the petition and getting the vote on the ballot. That’s not a realistic fear.”
The chamber will hold two public forums in August in an attempt to educate the public about the “moist” law and what to expect should the county pass a law allowing liquor by the drink in large restaurants. The forums are scheduled for Aug. 5 at the John W. Black Community Center in Buckner and Aug. 11 at the Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve in Goshen. The forums will last from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. During that time, information will be provided and residents will be given the opportunity to ask questions.
Speaking on behalf of the chamber, Hovan said allowing liquor by the drink in large restaurants would be a plus for the county. “It would improve both the business atmosphere as well as the personal atmosphere, and that’s why we decided to step up to the plate and get it on the ballot.”
Petition boxes have been placed at about 30 locations throughout the county.

For more information, contact the chamber office at (502) 222-1635.

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