Sunday, July 23, 2000

Dry county to vote on alcohol

As Grant's population grows, so do proposals to allow liquor sales

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The sign along U.S. 25 on the front lawn of Grace Baptist Church portrays how a number of people in fast-growing but still largely rural Grant County feel about a pending vote on alcohol sales:

        “Vote No on July 25th.''

        For the third time in 15 years, there is a move to allow the sale of alcohol in Grant County, one of 75 dry Kentucky counties — where beer, liquor and wine may be consumed but not sold.

        Voters will decide Tuesday whether alcohol should be sold in a county dominated by rolling farmland and tobacco fields but increasingly home to new housing developments.

        Farmer Mark Kinsey hopes the issue fails, but says the growth of the county could influence the election.

        “I don't think we need to have alcohol sales in this county,” said Mr. Kinsey, who was heading out to count cattle on his family's farm just north of Dry Ridge.

        He sees more than one reason to oppose the initiative.

        “It causes problems with families, and DUIs and things like that,” he said. “But I think the biggest thing is that it will help keep us rural if we stay dry. If we get liquor sales, then we'll get even more growth than we're having now.”

        Alcohol sales could invite more development into the county because many national restaurant chains and hotels that sell alcohol won't move into dry communities, developers in Northern Kentucky say.

        Grant County is second only to Warren County in growth among 13 counties in Greater Cincinnati. Since 1990, Grant County's population has increased 26 percent, to 19,828 in 1997 from 15,737.

        “A lot of new people have moved in over the last few years,” Mr. Kinsey said. “Who knows? They might come out and vote for this.”

        After a group called Freedom of Choice collected 827 signatures of registered voters, Grant County Clerk Judy Fortner put the “wet/dry” issue on the ballot and scheduled Tuesday's vote.

        Mrs. Fortner said last week she expects a heavy turnout. “People seem extremely interested in this issue,” she said.

        Freedom of Choice has been running ads in favor of the ballot issue on country music radio station WNKR-FM, WNKR promotions director Amanda Cox said.

        Ms. Cox said the ads argued that local sales would reduce the likelihood of people drinking outside the county and driving home under the influence.

        Organizers of the group did not return phone calls seeking comment.

        Convenience-store owner Joel Price said that as a businessman and a resident he supports the move to sell alcohol in the county.

        “I want to see it because it will increase my business,” said Mr. Price of Williamstown, who operates an Ameristop in Dry Ridge.

        He said he signed the petition but is not involved in the campaign to allow the sales.

        “I guess there could be some negatives, but not any more than in other communities that sell alcohol,” Mr. Price said. “People drive to other places to get it now. I figure we should just sell it here because people want it.”

        More than a dozen churches have formed an opposition group called Keep It Dry and Safe, which has run ads in newspapers.

        “We think the alcohol influence in the community would be a negative influence,” said the Rev. Willie Ailstock, pastor of Dry Ridge Baptist Church and chairman of the opposition group. “There will be more drinking and driving, and we'll have to put more police on streets. Our community just won't be as safe as it is now.”

        Grant County's most recent vote on the issue was in 1985. It lost by a ratio of 2-to-1.

        Three years ago, another group collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, hoping to attract the motor speedway that ended up locating in Gallatin County.

        However, the vote was not tak en because the petition sought a Saturday election rather than one on a Tuesday, when elections in Kentucky are required to be held.

        Even though alcohol sales could result in more business at Ronnie Edmonson's grocery store in Williamstown, Mrs. Edmonson opposes the issue.

        “We don't need this county to be wet,” she said as she stocked the shelves in the store her family has operated since 1959. “We haven't sold alcohol since we've been open. We don't need to sell it now. It will be more trouble than it's worth.”

        A few miles down U.S. 25 in Corinth, a community of 137 people near the Scott County line, Sabrena Nunnelley said she wouldn't be surprised if voters approved the measure.

        “A lot of people in this county drink,” said Ms. Nunnelley, a clerk at Allen's Country Store and a supporter of the referendum.

        “Right now they have to drive 10 or 15 miles to Harrison County or up to Kenton County to buy alcohol. If we have it in the county, at least they won't be driving and drinking.

        “They'll be able to get it right here and stay at home or at least stay closer to home. That sounds safer to me.”


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