Sunday alcohol sales by the drink will be allowed in downtown Ashland restaurants.
Despite low turnout in Tuesday’s special election — only 209 voters cast ballots out of approximately 1,500 who were eligible — the measure passed by a 3 to 1 margin.
The Moore precinct passed it by a 62 to 21 vote; Central precinct was 95 to 29. There were two absentee ballots and both voted in favor of the measure, according to Debbie Jones, Boyd County clerk.
The vote tallies were official on Tuesday night; Boyd County Board of Election members certified them within an hour of polls closing, said Jones.
A successful petition put the measure in front of the voters in the Moore and Central precincts, where restaurants seating 100 patrons and making 50 percent of their gross receipts from food sales can already sell alcohol by the drink six days a week. Private clubs will also be allowed to sell alcohol by the drink on Sundays.
Ashland Mayor Chuck Charles said he was uncertain how quickly the Sunday sales could be put into place.
“I think we have to review what we need to do in terms of setting times,” he said. “We’ll probably put it on the first agenda of the next city commission meeting.”
City Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs considered it great news for Ashland.
“It’s a wonderful thing for the city and citizens, isn’t it?” asked Spriggs, who jumped up and down in excitement when the results were posted on the door of the Central Fire Station. She was among supporters of the measure who helped collect signatures to place the measure on the ballot and went door to door to get out the vote Tuesday.
“The people have spoken,” Spriggs said. “People obviously want us to have alcohol sales downtown. I think it’s a great thing for the economy all around.”
Stephanie Gregg, a resident of Central precinct, is a bartender at O’Charley’s in Ashland. She believes Sunday sales will boost her income.
“I think it will bring more business in, especially during football season. I think it is silly to send it across the state line,” said Gregg. Sundays, she said, are already busy in the restaurant but no one wants to sit in her section until the other areas are full.
“What’s the difference in doing it (drinking) on a Sunday afternoon or a Wednesday afternoon after church?” she said, noting she attends services on both days. “I’m not a huge drinker but it does affect my living.”
Jeff Browning, a resident of the Central precinct, came out with his brother and mother to vote. All three voted yes. “It will help businesses around here and the tax money that people spend in Ohio and West Virginia will be here in Kentucky,” said Browning.
“The people are going to get it anyway. Either they are going to stock up on Saturday with it or they are going to go to West Virginia or Ohio,” he said.
Geary Caldwell, of the Central precinct, also came out to vote yes. "I think the city loses money, the businesses lose money and the employees who are working are going to be losing money. It’s a no-brainer."
“This little town needs all the revenue it can get,” added Rae Ann Caldwell.
Voters opposed to the measure were hard to find on Tuesday. Only one no voter spoke to a reporter, but was hesitant to have her name used.
Some residents of Ashland turned out to vote but were turned away because they didn’t live in either precinct, said Jones. “We got a lot of calls today,” she said.
Brothers Andy and Nick Wheeler live close to Hager Elementary School and were not eligible to vote but turned out anyway.
“We think it’s stupid you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday,” said Nick Wheeler, minutes after being turned away.
Both brothers said they believe the city commission should have taken action to legalize Sunday sales instead of putting it to a vote where fewer than 1 percent of residents could cast a ballot on the issue.
Ashland resident and Unity Baptist Church Pastor Floyd Paris also wanted the opportunity to vote on the issue. He opposes Sunday sales.
Paris does not believe the vote will be upheld because so many Ashlanders could not vote in the election.
“There are a lot of disenfranchised people out there who should have a say. We do have elected officials, the councilman. The democratic process was circumvented,” said Paris, noting less than 1/10 of one percent of Ashlanders could vote in the election. “You are not allowing the other residents in the community to have a vote or a say of what goes on in their community.”
Paris said he is among a group of individuals who have talked about mounting a legal challenge to the vote. He declined to give further details.
Ashland resident Kenneth Christopher Jones voted yes on the issue, but believed he was voting to allow package sales, too. He said elected officials should have passed Sunday sales by ordinance rather than holding an expensive election.
Tuesday’s vote cost Boyd County taxpayers approximately $5,000, according to Jones.
“That is why you put people in office, to make decisions. If they know what everyone wants why don’t they just do it?” said Jones.
Spriggs and Charles said they believe additional Sunday alcohol sales in package stores could be up for discussion among city leaders, and soon. Approximately 85 percent of Ashland’s revenue from alcohol sales comes from package sales. The Ashland Board of City Commissioners can allow it by ordinance.
“I would be for that. I’m for economic development in that area,” said Spriggs.
The new mayor agreed that it’s an issue that needs to be strongly considered.
“I think the commissioners need to address that,” he said. “If the voters have made their wishes known, in the past the commissioners have said ‘Let the voters decide.’ Well, they have. I think they need to review that and include it all. I think all of them are aware of it and realize what will have to happen to continue the will of the people.”
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.