Trigg’s numbers show varying results

Edward Marlowe
Staff writer

Now two years removed, Trigg County officials are noticing the differences of a previously dry county repealing and turning wet.

In January 2010, the first liquor store opened in Cadiz, Ky., after a total alcohol distribution referendum passed by a narrow margin in Fall 2009.

Arguments for both sides have been the same in a number of counties not just the local area, but also in other parts of the country.

Concerns of increased drivers under the influence, domestic violence, property damage and increased alcoholism pervade the minds of those who are against it, while those promoting alcohol distribution lobby for possible increases in tourism and propose stricter law enforcement accompanied with increased tax revenue for both the county and state treasury.

For Trigg County, the results of housing packaged liquor have not brought the extremes of positives or negatives usually associated with proponents of their cause.

Scott Brown, police officer and public information officer for the Cadiz Police Department, said packaged liquor sales have had a gradual impact on the community, not the explosion of economy usually promised, but also not an increased death toll on city and county roads attributed to DUIs.

“Packaged liquor has created a gradual influx of jobs and revenue,” Brown said. “Not thousands of jobs, but a few.”

Local Mexican restaurant El Bracero had to renovate in order to properly accommodate 50 customers as required by city alcohol ordinance to obtain a liquor license.

Timbers Steak and Grill, a restaurant in Canton, Ky., located near Land Between the Lakes, re-opened immediately after the referendum for alcohol passed.

Six liquor stores have opened since January 2010, and local gas stations and convenient stores have remodeled to efficiently provide packaged liquor in their establishments.

Scott said these were just some of the major examples of job creation associated with packaged liquor, but noted long-term trends of employment and promises of tourism could not be analyzed until further down the road.

While detractors for packaged liquor usually point to the fear of increased DUIs, Brown said DUIs have been on the downturn since the inception of liquor into the county.

In 2007, 51 DUI arrests were made within city limits, while arrests crested in 2008 at 75. Starting in 2009, the year of the referendum, arrests were down to 60 and have continued to fall with only 41 arrests made in 2011.

“We also have not seen a major increase in alcohol related crime,” Brown said. “Local schools are also not seeing a major problem with minors drinking.”

An obvious windfall of packaged liquor resides in the collection of taxes based on generated sales, but the actual distribution of the tax revenue acquired has long since been a topic of debate.

Lucy Oliver, Trigg County treasurer, said most of the county money received through alcohol sales paid for a new ambulance, two new police cruisers and a new truck for the county jailer.

“State tax is more specific in that you must spend it in certain ways,” Oliver said. “KRS statutes don’t indicate as clearly where local tax monies can go.”

Trigg County exercises a 12 percent sales tax on all alcohol purchases regardless of the establishment, with 6 percent going to the county and the other 6 percent entering the Kentucky General Fund.

Between January 2010 and October 2011, nearly $265,000 in tax revenue and license fees was generated for Trigg County on approximately $3.8 million in total alcohol sales.

However, not everything is picture perfect.

As recent as 2007, research from the University of Kentucky suggests that alcohol-related accidents are 40 percent higher and DUI arrests are 35 percent higher in wet counties than dry ones.

The same research suggested perpetual DUI offenders in dry counties are likely to be male, have drug problems, meet specific substance abuse and dependency criteria and have multiple DUI convictions.

Other research from the University of Kentucky in 2002 said county-level prohibition is not necessarily effective in improving highway safety and is in fact counter-productive since individuals choose to drive under the influence over longer distances, increasing the chances of an accident.

Research from August 2011 out of Ming Chuan University in Taiwan surmised that alcohol control policies in Kentucky such as zero-tolerance laws, seatbelts and hefty beer taxes decreased the frequency of DUI accidents in both wet and dry counties.

Regardless of countless facts and figures, Brown said packaged liquor discussion usually boils down to two things.

Said Brown: “It’s usually economics versus religion, and now let’s talk. What if we drop those two things out of the equation; now how do you talk about it?”


Inside the Story

A group known as Marshall First, headquartered in Benton, Ky., has formed a petition in hopes of creating a referendum for packaged liquor sales within Marshall County.

While the group needs 2,100 signatures to verify the petition, Marshall First wants 2,500 signatures to be on the safe side.

Sissy Wommack, spokeswoman for Marshall First, told WPSD Local 6 on Feb. 28 it was time for a change in the county.

“Alcohol is already here, it’s just here illegally,” she said. “We just want to make it legal where we can tax it.”

Initial response for the movement has been overwhelming, Wommack said, but not everyone has been supportive of the issue.

Jackie Fowler, Paducah resident, said he and his family drive to Benton to eat in restaurants specifically to avoid alcohol.

“I’ve been in the midst of this mess long enough that I can see what it does to people,” Fowler told WPSD. “Families are ruined, homes are ruined and lives are ruined … the whole nine yards.”

Wommack said she wants all signatures turned in by April 1 in order to submit the petition to the Marshall County clerk’s office and then on to County-Judge Executive Mike Miller.