A petition for a local option election is circulating in downtown Whitesburg.
Mark Kidd, of Whitesburg, said he has been talking to people in the last six months who are in favor of having a special election to vote on whether or not Whitesburg should be wet.
“It seemed like everyone wanted to do it, but all we were missing was someone to gather it and put their name at the bottom,” said Kidd.
Kidd owns commercial property in downtown and says he feels positively about the future of Whitesburg and its forward momentum.
“This is a clear opportunity for us to keep cultivating new business and grow the town,” said Kidd. “I think people already enjoy the amenities we have downtown. We are starting to be a draw here. I would like to see two or three more restaurants pop up.”
After researching state law, Kidd decided to go ahead and get a petition in circulation.
“It has been a popular issue,” said Kidd. “ Most people in Whitesburg are excited to vote about it. I don’t think it is going to be controversial.”
The first signature was given on Dec. 22 and at least 40 signatures had been collected as of Jan. 10. Kidd said he has six months to gather about 150 signatures, which he has determined to be about 25 percent of the total number of voters who voted in the November General Election.
Letcher Court Clerk Winston Meade said the totals from the November General Election have not yet been certified by the Kentucky State Board of Elections. Meade anticipates that it will be certified by the end of next week.
Meade said those who vote in East Whitesburg, West Whitesburg or Ermine may not necessarily live in the city limits.
“I can tell you 150 is not a true count,” said Meade. “They may need more or less signatures.”
Meade said once he figures out how many signatures are needed for the petition, he suggests more signatures should be collected than the set amount because some signatures may not fit the criteria.
“We have to verify every single signature,” said Meade. “Because we want it done right.”
Kidd would like to have 150 signatures collected by January 15. When all of the signatures needed are obtained, Kidd will file the petition with Meade. A date for a special election would then be set by Letcher County/Judge Executive Jim Ward. The election would be held between 60 and 90 days after the petition is filed.
If the majority of the votes during the special election is no, there would be no change to the existing law in Whitesburg. In the spring of 2007 voters in Whitesburg approved a referendum allowing the sale of alcohol in restaurants that seat at least 100 patrons and derive at least 70 percent of their income from the sale of food.
If the majority of the vote is yes, the city council and the mayor would decide the regulations on how businesses in Whitesburg sell alcohol.
The petition reads as follows:
“ In order to promote economic development and tourism within the City of Whitesburg, Kentucky, the undersigned, being residents and registered voters in Whitesburg, do hereby petition for a local option election, as required by Kentucky Revised Statutes 242.020. As required by KRS 242.050, the proposition on the election ballot shall state ‘Are you in favor of the sale of alcoholic beverages in Whitesburg, Kentucky?’”
The City of Pineville in Bell County is also seeking to legalize package liquor sales.
Like Whitesburg, Pineville already allows some restaurants to sell alcohol, but the petition seeks to allow a vote on package sales at convenience and grocery stores.
Billy Taylor, an attorney who is helping to file the petition, told the Middlesboro Daily News that the economy in all of southeast Kentucky is poor and the city “needs a boost.” He says allowing package liquor stores would help.