By CHRIS HARRIS
Burnside was the first town in Pulaski County since the end of Prohibition to legally serve alcohol.
Now, they’ve been left in the unenviable position of having to play catch-up.
The first significant step was taken in that process this week, when a petition was turned into Pulaski County Clerk Ralph Troxtell requesting an option election in Burnside to allow expanded alcohol sales.
This is possible since Burnside is now a fourth-class city. Mayor Ron Jones announced at the April Burnside City Council meeting that the city’s change in classification had been approved by the state legislature. Previously, as a fifth-class city, Burnside was only able to offer alcohol sales by the drink in restaurants.
Likely in October, voters will get to determine if booze is better in Burnside.
Troxtell told the Commonwealth Journal that on Wednesday, citizen Mark Vaught had dropped off the “wet”/“dry” petition in his office at the county courthouse.
Vaught was not the one who started the petition, however — and neither he or Troxtell knows who is responsible.
“I was in my officer heading out the door, and (a staff member) said there was a gentleman who brought this thing by,” said Vaught, real estate appraiser with Childers Financial Services, referring to the petition. “It happens all the time. Everybody knows I’m up at (Troxtell’s) office all the time, and somebody wants me to do something for them.”
Vaught said that an individual had previously called him asking about how many signatures would be required for such a petition, but Vaught couldn’t recall who that individual was.
“I answer so many calls during the day,” he said. “People ask me general information about this or that.”
Troxtell said that he didn’t expect the “mystery filer” aspect of the petition to present any problems with its legality, however.
“I don’t think we have to have a name for filing anything,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve received one where they didn’t tell me who it was. ... (However,) I don’t think I have the authority to ask anyone’s name.”
In order to be legitimate, a petition like this needs to have a number of signatures equal to or greater than 25 percent of the town’s citizens that voted in the last general election.
The petition passed that hurdle. There are 93 signatures on it; the minimum number needed was 81.
Troxtell said that the signatures had been verified as of late Thursday, and there were 85 good ones in the bunch, meeting the qualifications for certification.
The county clerk has notified Judge-Executive Barty Bullock, who will review the petition and set a date for a local option election.
The election must be set no sooner than 60 days and no later than 90 days after it was filed, putting the likely target date in mid-October, according to Troxtell.
The county clerk doesn’t expect any obstacles — “It looks good,” he said — but said Bullock will likely have county attorney Martin Hatfield go over the legality of it.
The petition reads as follows:
“Burnside now being a 4th Class City; we the undersigned registered voters hereby petition for an election on the following question: ‘Are you in favor of the sale of alcoholic beverages in the City of Burnside?’”
The question does not specify whether it’s just aiming for beer sales or liquor stores and bars as well. Somerset has the capability for both following the larger city’s own option election in June 2012.
Mayor Jones said he wasn’t sure what a fourth-class city was capable of allowing, as different classifications provide for different alcohol-sale opportunities. He said he’s going to a seminar next with Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) officials who will “lay everything out for us in a two-day seminar about what all regulations have been changed,” said Jones.
However, spokesperson Nathan Jones of the ABC offices in Frankfort confirmed that Burnside would have the capability to sell retail package distilled spirits and wine, as well as bars.
“Fourth-class cities can have anything,” he told the Commonwealth Journal.
Mayor Jones expected the city council to abide by the wishes of the town’s voters, whatever those may be, but is in favor of the prospect of Burnside having expanded liquor sales as a means of helping the local economy — specifically in competing with the county seat to the north.
“I think it will be good for the town,” said Jones. “Before Somerset went ‘wet,’ the tourists would stop in Burnside and get their gas and their ice and their cold drinks and sandwiches. Now they stop in Somerset and get ice and drinks and sandwiches, and no longer have a reason to stop in Burnside.
“Now, at least we can level the playing field if (the vote passes in favor of alcohol sales),” he added. “Tourists no longer have to stop north of Slate Branch Road. Now they can stop in Burnside.”