With only about a week to go before Burnside voters choose whether or not to expand alcohol sales in their community, the town’s mayor made one last push at Monday’s city council meet-ing to get citizens to vote “yes.”
Burnside May-or Ron Jones made an unequiv-ocal statement in support of going fully “wet” next Tuesday, a move which has been rare for Pulaski County politicians over the year.
“Ask your neighbors to come out and vote for this thing,” said Jones. “We need to get this passed for the financial health of this town.”
Unlike last year’s option election in Somerset, which featured lots of advertising and sign-positing as the anti-alcohol forces held a very public ongoing debate with those seeking alcohol sales in the formerly “dry” community, the lead-up to Burnside’s election has been relatively quiet. (No one has even publicly come forward to claim that they originated the petition so far.)
Jones broke the silence Monday in a public forum, however, by making the case that Burnside needs the ability to sell alcohol to keep up with Somerset.
“(Tourists) are here, with their vacation in mind, and either or Somerset is going to sell this, or Somerset and Burnside are going to sell (alcohol),” said Jones. “... You do not come to Pulaski County to go inside somewhere and look at four walls and have a drink. You come to get out here on the lake. Burnside is the only place on the lake.
“We have got a gold mine here if we use it properly,” he added. “We can turn this into a very nice tourist area. Right now, you either sell gas or you sell hamburgers. That’s it.”
Since 2004, Burnside has had the ability to sell alcohol by the drink, thanks to an option election at that time that made the self-proclaimed “only town on Lake Cumberland” also the only town in Pulaski to have legal alcohol sales. (The decision was reaffirmed by an even wider margin in 2007.)
However, Somerset went straight from no alcohol to beer in groceries and liquor retailers as well as restaurant drink sales — and Burnside is feeling the pressure to compete.
“I’m charged with paying the bills that come into this town,” said Jones. “Our property tax has stayed where they were forever. Compared to other towns, we really don’t have much in the way of property tax.
“I was at a meeting a week ago, and Mayor (Eddie) Girdler (of Somerset) was talking to the Chamber (of Commerce) about the alcohol revenue that was coming into Somerset — something in the neighborhood of $700,000 a year,” he continued. “... If we could pick up 10 percent (of that number), what a booster that would be to our economy! I think we would exceed that.”
Jones noted that the cost of chemicals for wastewater treatment go up annually, as do other key city expenses, and having more money in the city coffers from alcohol fees could help give the city more financial options without raising taxes.
“The money has got to come from somewhere,” he said, “so we either cough it up out of our pocket, or we do something that generates some revenue for the city, and this will generate some revenue.”
Councilor Bill Leslie asked if the city had looked into the option of holding a special election to institute a local sales tax for a limited time to help fund a particular project (such as the city’s ailing water plant renovation), but Jones noted that such a move would be independent from the alcohol vote.
Councilor Joyce Gregory suggested fixing up buildings to help entice businesses to locate in Burnside, and Jones noted that with more money in the general fund, it would give the city funds to do necessary “clean-up” work.
Jones said that according to his research, from 1990 to 2007, only municipalities went “wet” in Kentucky, but from that time to 2011, there’s been 24. Burnside recently moved up to fourth-class city status, a move that would allow it to go fully “wet” based on classification rules, and Jones is hoping to capitalize on that change.
“As the economy has slowed, everybody is digging,” he said. “Either we’re going to share in it, or we’re going to give it all to Somerset.”
The election is scheduled to be held on Tuesday, October 15. All voters in the Burnside City and North Burnside precincts will vote at the Burnside fire station as usual. East Burnside County and South Burnside County voters will also be voting there next week. The three registered voters in the Nancy precinct will vote at the Pulaski County Courthouse in downtown Somerset.
In other Burnside City Council news:
• The council set the town’s trick-or-treating hours for Thursday, October 31, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
• The council decided to grant a quick-claim deed to homeowners Luis and Abigail Amaya for .05 acres of land that’s technically part of Cole Park, but on which the driveway leading to a garage on his property lies. Amaya paid for the surveying out of his own pocket, and the city decided the deed would be a less costly decision than building a new road that the Amayas could use instead.
• Councilor Willis Eadens suggested the town look into having a volunteer work day once a month where citizens could come together and collectively do odd jobs for their neighbors in the community.
• The Point Isabel Eastern Star chapter will hold a special chili supper on Saturday, November 2 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Burnside fire station. Cost is $5, all-you-can-eat, and proceeds benefit buy Christmas gifts for in-need students at Burnside Elementary School. Visitors are also encouraged to bring a toy for that purpose.