By Marty Finley
Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm (Updated: March 24, 10:06 pm)
Another prominent Hardin County entity has emerged in favor of placing increased alcohol sales to a public vote.
Hardin County United formally endorsed the efforts of Yes for Economic Success, arguing the debate is one of economic development and should be taken to voters to decide.
Y.E.S. is a collective of local organizations and residents working to change existing alcohol laws in Hardin County because, Y.E.S. argues, they are unnecessarily stringent and an encumbrance to business growth.
In an effort to revise the laws, Y.E.S. is leading concurrent petition drives in Elizabethtown, Radcliff and Vine Grove to authorize a local option election in the three cities at the same time.
Hardin County Judge-Executive Harry Berry, chairman of Hardin County United, said Thursday that he respects alcohol use as an issue of personal choice. He said HCU’s steering committee voted to endorse Y.E.S. and its effort because it recognizes the issue as one crucial to economic development.
Berry said the county is giving up revenue to surrounding counties that allow alcohol sales because Hardin County residents are traveling and spending their money despite the inconvenience.
“The purchase of these products is happening whether it is allowed in Hardin County or not,” he said.
HCU also argues that being dry gives other areas a competitive advantage over Hardin County from a tourism perspective.
Luke Schmidt, president of L.B. Schmidt & Associates LLC, the consulting firm that conducted the Hardin County Vision Project and provides consulting services to HCU, said many of the cities Hardin County competes with have more accessible alcohol sales, everywhere from Bardstown and Bowling Green to Lexington, Louisville and Nashville.
Berry said loosening these restrictions could generate more interest in Hardin County as a tourism destination and attract new businesses.
Schmidt said it also could change a perception businesses may have in terms of quality of place. According to the statement released by HCU, the availability of alcohol in restaurants and pubs is important to developers looking at sites to place businesses.
“Changing the law will make it easier to open new establishments in the historic buildings in downtown Elizabethtown and Vine Grove and in commercial areas in Radcliff,” the HCU statement read.
HCU identified 24 strategic goals to consider as part of the Hardin County Vision Project that weighs core areas, from government to education and health care. Expanded alcohol sales is one of those goals.
Schmidt said the firm polled more than 100 community leaders about the alcohol issue and the response was overwhelmingly in favor of Hardin County going wet.
For example, when respondents were asked if they feel the dining and entertainment scene in Hardin County is robust, 72 percent voted no.
Further questioning revealed 67 percent of respondents felt current alcohol laws are cumbersome for development of new restaurants and entertainment venues and 90 percent of those responders felt the laws should be changed.
Both Berry and Schmidt said the research and polling data led to HCU’s decision.
“It seems consistent with the goals of Hardin County United,” Berry said of the endorsement.
Schmidt said HCU will not proceed as an active arm to market or promote the expanded alcohol effort but rather offer its vocal support to Y.E.S. in its role.
HCU is the latest in a long line of local organizations to endorse the effort, including the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau, North Hardin Economic Development Authority, Elizabethtown Industrial Foundation, Elizabethtown Heritage Council, West Point City Council and all four county chambers of commerce, which recently united to form the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce.
But everyone is not crazy about the plan. Liquor store owners in Bullitt and Meade counties have said the emergence of package liquor stores and other alcohol-friendly venues in Hardin County could hurt businesses in nearby counties.
Some also have argued the Y.E.S. group is misguided in its belief that the expansion of alcohol will lead to large financial success. Pat Donnelly, an Elizabethtown resident and owner of Turnpike Liquors in Shepherdsville, said much of the revenue will be funneled out of the county because corporations will apply for most of the alcohol licenses. Meanwhile, taxes generated from the licenses will be minuscule, Donnelly said.
On another front, the Hardin County Christian Coalition has stepped out in opposition to the plan. Founder Will Stolz said the push for alcohol is an unimaginative way to produce revenue in the county and a faulty form of progression.
Hardin County, Stolz added, should strive to stand out from the crowd rather than join its neighbors.
Y.E.S. and HCU maintain gains will be found for the county should it reach a ballot and find voter approval.
“Research indicates millions of dollars are being left on the table in surrounding counties by Hardin County citizens when they travel to Bullitt, Jefferson, Meade and Nelson counties to purchase alcoholic beverages,” HCU said in its written statement. “It’s time to put these dollars in local cash registers along with the taxes that such sales generate.”
Y.E.S. needs to gather more than 3,600 signatures total to place the issue on the ballot. State law requires petitions from each city to have enough signatures from eligible voters to equal 25 percent of the voter turnout in the last general election. That translates to 1,990 signatures in Elizabethtown, 1,182 in Radcliff and 468 in Vine Grove, according to Hardin County Clerk Kenny Tabb.