Voters in the City of Jenkins will decide during the May Primary Election whether the sale of alcoholic beverages should be permitted in restaurants that seat at least 50 people.
Mason Gibson, of Jenkins, has spent the last three months collecting signatures to get a petition filed in time to be placed on the ballot for the May 17 election. At least 167 signatures were needed to be on the petition, which is 25 percent of the total number of Jenkins residents who voted in the last general election. The petition had to be filed no less than 60 days before the next election to be placed on the ballot without a special election date being set.
With 61 days left until the election, Letcher County Clerk Winston Meade certified the petition, which included 282 signatures, on March 17.
“This is to promote economic development, tourism, restaurants and hotels,” said Meade.
Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward signed an order March 18 setting the date for the election as May 17.
The way the question will read on the ballot is: “Are you in favor of the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink in the City of Jenkins at restaurants and dining facilities with a seating capacity of at least 50 persons and which derive at least seventy percent of their gross receipts from the sale of food if the alcoholic beverage is purchased in conjunction with a meal?”
Gibson who describes herself as a voice of the community, said she organized the petition “to bring more businesses to eastern Kentucky and Jenkins most of all.”
“Our main goal is to try to get our city to grow,” said Gibson. “We’re all excited. It’s the first step.”
Jenkins City Administrator Todd DePriest pointed out that Jenkins neighbors Wise County, Va., where alcohol sales are already legal.
“That gate is open and we are losing all of that business,” said DePriest.
DePriest said organizers chose to petition for limited alcohol sales in restaurants rather than have alcohol sold in liquor stores or gas stations because they thought more people would be in favor of the limited alcohol sales.
Jenkins Mayor G.C. Kincer said organizers of the petition opted for the lesser requirement of 50 seats in an establishment instead of 100 “because we are a small town.”
Kincer said the 50-seat capacity requirement might entice more businesses to locate in Jenkins than would a 100-seat capacity requirement.
Gibson said most of the citizens with whom she has spoken are in support of limited alcohol sales in Jenkins, which has a population of 2,401 and is a fourth-class city. Jenkins would be the 26th location in the state to approve restaurantonly sales since the Kentucky General Assembly passed a law allowing for such local option elections in 2000.
Whitesburg became the 21st location to approve restaurantonly sales on April 17, 2007, when Whitesburg residents voted by a margin of more than 2 to 1 in favor of legalizing alcohol sales in some restaurants. During the special election 413 people voted in favor of allowing sales of alcohol by the drink in restaurants that can serve at least 100 people with at least 70 percent of sales from food. The no vote totaled 196.
Whitesburg and Seco are the only two towns in Letcher County where the sale of alcoholic beverages is legal in some form. Residents of Seco voted overwhelmingly in 2000 to allow the local Highland Winery to sell wine and beer.
“It’s going to be interesting to see the effect the City of Whitesburg has had on the county,” said Kincer.
Whitesburg Mayor James W. Craft said the alcohol ordinance has made a tremendous impact on the city’s revenue. Craft said alcohol sales have generated an average of about $100,000 in each of the four years, totaling more than $400,000. Five restaurants serve alcoholic beverages in Whitesburg, including The Courthouse Cafe, Kentucky River Grill, Las Penas, Pizza Hut and Summit City.
“It made a lot of the stuff we do possible,” said Craft.
In the last four years, revenue from the alcohol tax has helped pay for construction of a pedestrian bridge connecting two city parking lots, buy police Tasers, a new radio system, a new police cruiser and music entertainment at the Independence Day and Labor Day celebrations. A 2011 dump truck, a new grader/scraper, and a saltbox were also paid for with the alcohol tax revenue, as well as renovations to River Park including a new stage and a gazebo.
“You are limited on the General Fund on what you can spend tax dollars on,” said Craft. “It doesn’t free up funds, it adds to. It’s at home and the money stays here.”
Craft said he thinks the City of Whitesburg benefiting from the alcohol tax will make it easier for Jenkins.
“I believe it will be easier for Jenkins because number one, the revenue it generates and number two, people can see it is not a bad thing,” said Craft. “I wish them well with it. We all live in the same county.”
Kincer said citizens organized the petition and not the Jenkins City Council.
The Jenkins council declined to vote in October 2009 on a proposal that would have already enabled qualifying restaurants and hotels to sell alcoholic beverages. Council members who declined to act on the motion introduced by Councilman
Terry Braddock said at the time it should be left up to Jenkins citizens to decide whether to allow alcohol sales. Voters of Jenkins will now get their chance to decide in less than 60 days.
“It would change the whole landscape of the city,” said Kincer.
The Jenkins City Council was told the petition had been filed at a special meeting on Tuesday (March 22). The meeting had been called to discuss extending the construction contract of K. Carrender, contractor for Phase I of the Jenkins Water Line Replacement Project. Ken Reid of Nesbitt Engineering, an engineering company based in Lexington and Hazard that works with the city on water and sewer projects, told the council the 90 day extension will not cost the city any additional money and is the result of inclement weather and unforeseen circumstances. Reid said the contractor has been at the work site every day, but a number of unforeseen circumstances plus the harsh weather in December and January had caused the request and he recommended that it be granted.
The council voted unanimously to extend the project period until June 17 and gave Mayor Kincer permission to sign the necessary change orders involved with the extension at the next progress meeting with Nesbitt and Carrender. The original closing date was March 17, a date which Reid said had been optimistic in light of the weather.
Reid also told the council the entire project is about 65 percent complete with the bulk of the line in place. He said most of the remainder of the work will involve hook- ups and meter connections. Little Camden is on the new lines now and customers as far as Number 4 Hill are now connected. As an example of unforeseen circumstances, Reid said workers found a two to three inch line that was completely apart running about 200 gallons of treated water per minute into the ground. He estimated the break had existed for several years. The court also approved three invoices from Carrender totaling $107,300.76.
The council also went into an executive session to discuss a possible land acquisition, but no formal action was taken.