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Battle lines are just beginning to form as supporters and opponents claim their side in the verbal grabble over legalizing alcohol sales in Spencer County.
At Monday morning’s fiscal court meeting, several preachers stepped down from their pulpits and petitioned magistrates in person to see their side of the issue.
“Since some magistrates have put their name on the list of supporters, I think it is appropriate that we address the court,” said Jeff McCarty, Spencer County resident and pastor of Fisherville Baptist.
“We all know alcohol can and will destroy lives. So whose hands will this vote be on if one child dies? We need to consider the lives that are going to be lost, rather than the restaurants we are going to gain.”
McCarty said it appears many are interested in padding their wallets with money from alcohol sales, yet few have discussed the potential costs that could be incurred by police, fire, EMS and other services.
“This court needs to be ready for the extra headaches,” said McCarty.
Included in those costs will be $20,000 to fund a special election if the wet/dry petition being circulated collects the necessary 2,100 signatures. There will also be the extra time and labor of the county clerk’s office to certify that the signatures are valid – something Spencer County Judge Executive David Jenkins pledged Monday to do once the petition is filed.
“The other costs are intrensic. It depends on who you talk to,” said Jenkins.
Prior to public comments, Jenkins made a statement letting audience members know that fiscal court has no jurisdiction over a petition filed by the people of this county.
In response, Chaplin Mission for Christ Pastor C.L. Glasscock quickly pointed out that fiscal court helped fund the economic development authority which is “pushing this petition.” Glasscock then put each court member on the spot and asked if they were in support of the wet vote or against.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m for or against,” said Jenkins. “What matters is that the people get a chance to vote. I’m for letting the people have a chance to participate in the democratic process.”
Elk Creek Magistrate John Riley agreed with Jenkins.
“I absolutely support their right to address the government for redress by petition,” said Riley. “We already have alcohol in Spencer County. We know that because of what is lying on the side of the roads and because of arrest records. This community has serious economic development problems and we can’t continue to build homes and not support with a job base.”
Magistrates Hobert Judd, David Henry and Bill Drury all said they were against the sale of alcohol in the county.
Judd said that the county is already spending $1,000/month on transporting criminals between jail, court and the hospital.
Henry said that he doesn’t believe the wet status would bring in the restaurants people are hoping for because big chains locate in areas with high populations – something even Bardstown and Shelbyville are lacking.
“I believe we need to see the facts when making such a decision,” said Drury, something he said has not been provided by EDA. His hopes were that the petition organizers would hold a public forum to educate voters.
“I’m disappointed that the EDA has brought this about and not the citizens themselves,” said Drury.
EDA representative Dennis Eisenback welcomed the audience members to attend their next meeting Monday, April 27 at 6 p.m. at the Donald Morris Smith Building, located at 88 East Main Street.
Alcohol by the
According to public records published in the Spencer Magnet there have been 25 people convicted of driving while under the influence of drugs/alcohol (DUIs) in the past four months.
While the number of actual arrests during the same time period was not immediately available, Spencer County Sheriff Steve Coulter estimated that 90 percent of police runs are alcohol-related. Of the calls involving a juvenile, Coulter said “if the child is not themselves on drugs or alcohol, they come from a home with them.”
If the wet vote were to pass locally, “I think it would be a tremendous impact,” said Coulter. “Naturally, we would have more DUIs, but we would also have more court time, more overtime for deputies, more accidents and more teenaged drinking. I don’t think there’s going to be enough revenue to cover those things.”
Currently, deputies’ salaries and overtime total just under $270,000 a year. This figure does not include the cost of benefits, or the sheriff’s state-mandated salary.
Spencer County Treasurer Doug Williams said that during 2008 fiscal year the county government spent $161,550 on housing prisoners and another $28,740 just to transport detainees back and forth to court.
“We’re hoping we don’t see an increase (in DUIs),” said Taylorsville Police Chief Toby Lewis. “We’re already stretched thin as it is with five officers covering seven days a week.”
Prior to becoming police chief, Lewis said he was a sergeant for Shelbyville Police Department. When the county went moist, officers there did not notice an increase in alcohol-related crimes.
Last week, the Spencer Magnet reported the economic impact of Lancaster, a Kentucky city that passed a wet vote in August 2008. This week, law enforcement leaders in Garrard County were asked what impact they witnessed.
“I think there’s been a decrease (in DUIs),” said Garrard County Sheriff Ronnie Wardrip, particularly at safety check points. In addition to helping the economy, he said there has been no changes in the number of domestic calls or fatalities since alcohol started being sold five months ago.
“I don’t think it’s had any impact that has been detrimental to the community,” said Wardrip.
While the debate continues, EDA Executive Director Annette King said that more businesses have asked to be added to the list of petition locations.
In addition to sites previously mentioned in the Spencer Magnet, wet/dry petitions can now also be found at Tanglewood Golf Course, Boatworks, Cheek’s Produce and Discount Tobacco Barn.