by Heather Tomlinson
Lake Cumberland is no longer the only thing that’s fully “wet” about Burnside.
By a count of 123-39, a smattering of Burnside voters opted to keep up with their neighbors in Somerset and permit expanded alcohol sales within city boundaries.
Previously, those who wished to sell alcoholic beverages in Burnside could do so only in the form of individual drinks purchased at restaurants.
That was when Burnside was a fifth-class city, however. The town’s recent bump up in classification to fourth-class allowed for the opportunity to go “wet” — that is, permitting beer and liquor sales in a retail store setting — and voters decided to capitalize on it.
It was a low turnout for an option election, just as Pulaski County Clerk Ralph Troxtell predicted on Monday.
Although there were 523 registered voters eligible to cast their ballots, only a little over 160 did so on Tuesday. That’s less than half the number of total voters involved in the 2007 re-vote on the referendum for serving drinks in restaurants, which itself saw fewer total voters than the first option election in 2004.
Absentee ballots were split on the question, 2-2. The Nancy precinct, which voted at the Pulaski County Courthouse rather than the Burnside Fire Station like the other precincts, brought out only one of its three registered voters (he or she voted in favor of alcohol sales). Likewise, East Burnside County saw only one vote cast, also for the “yes” column.
The Burnside City precinct saw the heaviest turnout, with a decisive margin of 108 votes for alcohol sales to 36 against.
North Burnside City saw its residents vote 8-0 in favor of alcohol sales, and South Burnside County was 3-1.
“It’s been a real smooth day,” said Troxtell, sitting in one of the emptiest county clerk’s office environments on an election night in recent memory. “Very minimal calls. Very few called that thought they could vote that weren’t eligible to vote. It’s actually been a long, boring day, because we went through the same process as a general election.”
The weeks leading up to the election were as quiet as the polling places themselves. The vote was virtually free of the campaigning by “wet” and “dry” forces in advertising and yard signage.
Only Burnside Mayor Ron Jones was particularly vocal about his views on the subject, and as expected, he was quite pleased to hear that Burnside had gone “wet,” being as he was concerned about losing business to Somerset following the latter town’s 2012 alcohol vote.
“I think it just sort of reaffirms the citizens’ faith in me to lead the community in the manner that it needs to be led,” said Jones. “... We’re glad to see we’re going to have additional revenue without having to tax the people who live here. We need all the money from any other source we can get.”
Due to recent changes in Kentucky Revised Statute policy, Jones isn’t entirely sure yet how all the laws regarding Burnside’s new status — able to sell beer in store, and distilled spirits and wine by quota licenses — will work.
When Burnside first went “moist” a decade ago, the city was able to financially benefit through implementing a food tax and direct alcohol tax on individual purchases.
Now, Burnside should be able to put a licensing fee into place, much like Somerset does, as well as a separate regulatory fee on individual purchases that might serve a function very similar to the previous alcohol tax.
Jones noted that the city could use additional police officers, as well as extra money in the city coffers to construct a planned amphitheater at Cole Park along with additional parking capacity there.
“Exactly what we can do and how (the state) will allow us to use the revenue off of (the expanded alcohol sales) is unclear yet,” said Jones, “... (but) I think that revenue should make a big difference for our town.”