Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON – Moving forward with its goal of repealing prohibition in the county, Marshall “1st” held a petition meeting Monday night. The group hopes to keep dollars already being spent on alcohol sales in the county by allowing businesses to sell alcohol.
The 40 to 50 regular members of Marshall “1st” are attempting to garner the 2,100 signatures required by state law, to hold a special election sometime around September. The election would decide whether or not voters want county-wide alcohol sales.
“You’re not going to make anybody drink if they don’t want to and you’re not going to keep anybody who drinks from drinking,” said Sissy Wommack, the group’s spokesperson. “Alcohol is already here, it’s just here illegally. We want to make it legal where we can get the tax money off it.”
Wommack, who has been involved in the county’s real estate and development, said alcohol sales would attract new businesses, as well as help keep existing doors open. Tax revenue generated from the sales would remain local.
The group points to neighboring counties who have continued to experience growth in recent years despite the national economic downturn.
“Lyon County has brought in two big businesses because of them going moist,” Wommack said. “Trigg County just went wet in the last couple of years. It was fought pretty heavily. We understand people’s thought process, but we have done a lot of research and found in counties that went wet, their DUIs are down, spouse abuse is down.”
According to a February 2011 report by The Cadiz Record, alcohol sales in Trigg County were $2.34 million during the prior year, their first since the repeal. During that time, the county and city of Cadiz collected $140,146 in alcohol sales tax, purchasing two new police cruisers. Local taxes generated from alcohol sales would be used at the discretion of the municipality imposing the tax.
Trigg voted to repeal prohibition in 2009, selling its first drink in January 2010. While similar votes have been unsuccessful county-wide in Lyon, the city of Kuttawa voted in restaurant sales in 2000.
“I’m a teetotaler,” Wommack said. “It has nothing to do with alcohol. It’s the economy. It’s our economic growth. One of the things we find when companies look at our county, one of the first questions they ask is ‘are you wet or dry.’ They keep trucking when they find out we’re dry.”
Randy Newcomb, Executive Director for the Marshall County Tourist Commission, said that sentiment isn’t just restricted to businesses looking to locate. He hears similar reactions by vacationers.
“One of the most common questions we get from guests to our area is ‘where can I have a drink? Where can we buy alcohol?’ and we have to send them to another county,” Newcomb said. “From my standpoint, anything we can do to make ourselves more attractive to visitors we are for. Whether it’s the legalization of alcohol sales, a new bridge or a brand new attraction like the new zip line at Kentucky Shores. This would give us another option for our potential visitors.”
Tourism is the county’s second largest industry, and prohibition repeals in other counties have lead to fears of decreasing vacation traffic. For many, those worries increased last month when the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge was damaged, shutting off easy transportation between parts of the county and Land Between the Lakes.
But it also severed the road many visitors use to travel to wet Trigg County. Some business owners in the south end of the county fear the option to purchase liquor may be one more factor in which side of the bridge tourists opt to stay this year.
Wommack said Aurora business owners attending the meetings have grown more uncertain of the future since the closure of the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge.
“The resort owners especially and those in Aurora are concerned about our county and its tourism and economics,” Wommack said.
Setting the election
According to state law, a petition for an election must be signed by at least 25 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last election.
County Clerk Tim York said the election would likely happen sometime around September.
“The way it stands right now, that election cannot be held on a regular election day,” York said. “A bill currently in the House would change it so it wouldn’t have to be a special election, that it could go onto a regular election, but that will not affect this.”
York said the petition may not be circulated for more than six months, and the vote cannot take place earlier than 60 days or later than 90 days after the petition is submitted to his office. Marshall “1st” began circulating the petition last week.
“They can state what date they want the election to be held on,” York said. “If they do not, the county judge executive has to set the date.”
Marshall “1st” began meeting late last year. On Monday, the group met at the Marshall County Courthouse to discuss the petition effort. Future meetings have not been announced, but the group does expect opposition.
“I don’t see this as a wet/dry moral issue,” Newcomb said. “I see it as an economic issue. A lot of visitors come to our area for our tourist attractions and counties around us are benefiting. You can call any resort owner in the county and I think they will tell you the same thing.”
In the end, Wommack said it’s more than just keeping the dollars at home.
“We’re losing our kids to everywhere,” Wommack said. “They have to go to make a living. We’ve got to keep our future here. Part of that is economic growth.”
Anyone interested in signing the petition may contact Wommack at 205-1919.