Organizers say they are halfway toward getting enough signatures to put Corbin alcohol issue on the ballot
A month and a half after announcing an effort to legalize the sale of packaged liquor in Corbin, the principal organizer behind it said he has about half the number of signatures required to put the issue before city voters.
Kurt Kraus, Chairman of a group called Corbin Citizens for Economic Progress, said some early setbacks slowed the push to get about the roughly 800 to 1,000 signatures from registered voters in the city saying they want to see the issue on the ballot for a special election. Because Corbin lies in two counties and has voting precincts split between city residents and those that live in unincorporated areas, getting petition cards mailed to the proper people has been complicated.
"Things are going pretty well despite that. It kind of threw a monkey wrench in the plan, but we are halfway there," Kraus said. "I want to really emphasize to people that if you are for this and you want to vote on it, then you need to sign the card and drop it in the mailbox."
Kraus said about 2,500 cards were mailed to city residents last week and many are starting to come back.
"We need a big response. It needs to keep rolling. We don't want this thing to die," Kraus said. "If we don't get the participation we need from the cards, then the plan is to start hammering the streets and go door-to-door."
According to Kentucky law, the group needs to have at least 25 percent of the number of registered voters who voted in the last General Election to sign a petition before the measure can go on the ballot. The group is shooting for 800 to 1,000 signatures.
Once the signatures are presented to the County Clerk in either Knox or Whitley County, the signatures are verified. Then, the Judge-Executive from that respective county will set a date for a vote on the issue. Only registered voters who live in the city limits of Corbin will get to vote.
The official question on the ballot would be: "Are you in favor of the sale of alcoholic beverages in Corbin, Kentucky?"
Once a petition drive is started, organizers have six months to present the signatures for verification. A special election on the issue has to be held, but cannot be within 30 days of any primary or general election.
In a letter to citizens that accompanies the petition cards, Kraus makes the case that easing restrictions on alcohol sales in Corbin would help shore up the city's budget and spur economic development.
Paul Taylor, a Corbin native who owns package liquor stores that operate under the name "Liquor Mart" in Richmond, Danville and Lancaster, supports the measure and said he is interested in opening a similar store in Corbin if it passes.
"We employ between 15 and 25 people per store. Between Danville and Lancaster we pay $350,000 a year in taxes to those cities. I think it would be very good for the economy in Corbin," Taylor said. "I'm very interested in opening a store in Corbin. I've already been looking at land there. I think it's a great market."
All told, Taylor said he owns four Liquor Mart stores. He said a fifth would be opening in Manchester in the near future. That town approved a measure identical to the one proposed in Corbin. Organizers in London and Barbourville are floating similar proposals.
"People in Corbin are already drinking, but they are just going other places to buy their alcohol. It would be good to keep the tax dollars at home," Taylor said. "It just makes sense.
Together, Taylor's stores do roughly $25 million in sales every year. He opened his first in 1992 with a $15,000 loan from a Corbin bank. Now he keeps an average of $1.5 million to $2 million of inventory on hand in each location.
"It's a big investment, but you have to do it to be competitive," Taylor said.
If passed, Corbin would likely be allowed to issue three licenses to stores to sell package liquor of any type. An unlimited number of licenses could be issued to grocery stores, convenient marts and the like for beer sales. Also, restrictions on sales of alcohol at restaurants would become more lax. Currently, restaurants that sell alcohol must have at least 70 percent of their gross receipts come from food sales. That would drop to 50 percent.
Kraus said he's been surprised that he's received very little opposition to the idea of voting on expanded liquor sales in Corbin.
"A few people have sent the cards in saying they aren't in favor of it, but nothing belligerent," Kraus said. "It's been pretty calm, really."
So far, he said about $5,000 has been spent on advertising and mailing. All the money has come from private individuals. Stores and restaurants haven't yet financially backed the effort.
Kraus said some people have told him they are afraid to sign the petition cards because of possible reprisals or ostracism from those who are against it.
"I think there's a little fear among some people out there that other people will find out," he said. "The only people that see those cards are me and the county clerk and the ones who verify them. I've eased a few minds by telling people that, but some people are still scared."
Originally, organizers hoped to have the issue ready for a vote in February. Kraus now calls that goal "optimistic" but said the next few weeks will be telling.
"That would be great to do it that early."
All fields but Phone Number are required to submit a comment, but contact information is for internal communication only.