A Look at Murray's Upcoming Alcohol Vote

Mar 23, 2012

This July 17th, Murray residents will head to the polls to decide whether or not the city should go wet. That is, whether to allow the sale of alcohol within the city limits. Murray’s current alcohol status could be described as “moist”, as restaurants can sell alcoholic beverages, by-the-drink with some restrictions. Gary Pitts looked into the upcoming vote to find out about possible outcomes.

GARY: Earlier this year, a group called “Grow Murray” began circulating a petition to hold a vote to allow the city to go wet. The petition was certified earlier this month with signatures to spare. So Calloway County Judge Executive Larry Elkins set the date.

ELKINS: “There are statutes that specifies it has to be held within so many days. There’s some exceptions to that if that window falls within 30 days of a primary or general election.”

GARY: That window did fall within 30 days of this year’s primary election on May 22nd, so the vote had to be postponed until at least 30 days after that. Elkins set the date for July 17th. That particular date could have an effect on the election outcome, as it falls during the summer, when much of Murray’s college student population is not in town. Elkins says that factor didn’t play into his decision though.

ELKINS: “I really didn’t consider that one way or the other. You know, people who vote in these elections are residents and the polls will be open, and those people will be certainly welcome to vote. If they’re gone for the summer, then that’s their choice.”

GARY: There’s not much data to show how much of an effect that could have on the election. The last alcohol related vote in Murray was in 2000, when the city decided to allow alcohol sales by the drink in restaurants. Calloway County Clerk Ray Coursey Jr. was in office during that election, which was held in November, while the University was in session. The clerk’s office doesn’t keep up with whether or not voters are students. But Coursey says in that election, Murray’s then number nine precinct was made up of mostly apartments rented to college students. "Yes" votes outnumbered "No" votes by 262 in that precinct. That's in an election that was decided by just 268 votes. This year’s election could shape up to be a close one. If the city votes "No", the current by the drink policy would remain in place. But what happens if the city votes "Yes"?

HUMPHREES: “There’s a 60 day period that you’ve got to wait before the election actually becomes effective.”

GARY: Steve Humphrees is the General Counsel for the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. He says that 60 days allows the city time to begin working on ordinances that could among other things set hours of operation for businesses that sell alcohol, require server training for clerks at those businesses, and establish licensing fees.

HUMPHREES: “Normally, they’ll establish an additional regulatory license fee. This is in addition to the regular license fee to reimburse them for any additional costs of policing or regulating alcoholic beverages.”

GARY: In addition to that, businesses that want to apply for a license have to do so with the city first, then the ABC. As far as the number of licenses available, Humphrees says there are standard quotas used in most cities.

HUMPHREES: “You get one liquor drink license per every 2,500 people, and for LP licenses, it’s one per every 2,300.”

GARY: LP licenses are for packaged liquor. Murray’s population in the 2010 Census was just over 17,000 people. That comes to 7 liquor stores and 7 bars. Humphrees says specific regulations outside of that are generally left up to the city. Mayor Bill Wells says he and the rest of the City Council haven’t begun looking at anything  like that. They, like everyone, are waiting to see what happens at the polls on July 17th.