Fiscal Court has passed an ordinance 5-2 that permits Buffalo Trace and other local distilleries to hand out samples and sell packaged liquor on Sundays.
It passed after a heated discussion at Thursday’s work session, which the court was forced to move to the courtroom after nearly 30 showed up in support or opposition.
Jason Underwood, a lobbyist for Buffalo Trace, said the ordinance was proposed to help Buffalo Trace “level the playing field” with other nearby distilleries.
Underwood said Buffalo Trace is the only distillery in the state that doesn’t offer free samples or sell packaged liquor on Sundays.
Other supporters included Joy Jeffries, executive director of Frankfort/Franklin County Tourist and Convention Commission, and Carmen Inman, director of the Frankfort Area Chamber of Commerce.
Both said passing the ordinance would benefit Franklin County economically in a number of ways.
“This is economics,” Jeffries said. “It is jobs. It is visitors. It is putting the economy back into our community.”
After the ordinance was first read at Fiscal Court Nov. 18, several local churches took out a full-page ad in The State Journal in opposition to it.
The ad said alcohol use can lead to child and spousal abuse and deaths from drunken driving.
“Please, just please, allow there to be one day in Franklin County, Kentucky, where we don’t have the sale of alcohol products,” said C. Michael Davenport, to applause and choruses of “amen” from the audience.
The Rev. David Smith of North Frankfort Baptist Church, who composed the ad, said he was concerned that passing the ordinance would lead to more drunken driving deaths and alcohol poisoning.
“They (supporters of the ordinance) mentioned economics, and I understand that, but I’m only interested in human lives,” Smith said.
But County Attorney Rick Sparks pointed out that Sundays haven’t been completely dry since 2002.
Sparks identified 22 restaurants that sell alcohol on Sundays in Franklin County.
The county passed an ordinance in 2002 that allowed for restaurants – provided they seat at least 100 and have at least 50 percent of gross revenue come from food sales – to serve alcohol.
Sparks said the ordinance proposed by Buffalo Trace is actually more restrictive than the 2002 ordinance.
The ordinance regarding distilleries only allows sales of packaged liquor, and prohibits that liquor from being consumed on distillery grounds.
It also limits purchases to 3 liters per customer and says those can only be made between noon and 6 p.m. In contrast, the 2002 ordinance allows for the Sunday sale of alcohol at qualifying establishments between 1 p.m. and midnight, and doesn’t limit the number of alcoholic beverages served to one person.
“The irony was not lost on me that the proposal before this body today would allow certain retail packages of beverages to be taken home, but right now the current law requires you to go out and sit at a table, drink and drive home,” Sparks said.
Smith said he was concerned though that passing the bill would lead to Franklin County lifting the ban on Sunday alcohol sales altogether.
Smith referred to comments Sparks made at the Nov. 18 meeting, where Sparks said the ordinance “would open up Sunday (liquor) sales for any entity authorized to sell beer, wine (and) liquor” in Franklin County.
Sparks stood by those comments Thursday, calling the proposed ordinance a “backdoor amendment” to the 2002 ordinance that would allow businesses to ask the court for similar legislation.
Instead of having to go through this process again with those businesses, Sparks said the county should consider an amendment to allow all businesses to sell alcohol on Sundays.
“If you’re going to do it halfway, it’s at least more honest to do it all the way from the beginning,” Sparks said.
Judge-Executive Ted Collins disagreed that passing the ordinance would influence other establishments, saying that other businesses have yet to approach him on expanding alcohol sales into Sunday.
Magistrates Lambert Moore and Larry Perkins voted “no” on the ordinance. Moore said his vote may have been “prejudiced” since he doesn’t drink, and Perkins said he worried that passing it could lead to more drunkendrivers and possibly more work for law enforcement.
But annual traffic and crime reports from the Kentucky State Police don’t show an increase or decrease in DUI convictions or deaths caused by drunken driving collisions since the 2002 restaurant ordinance.
Last year, more than 360 were convicted of driving under the influence in Franklin County, nearly 100 less than the number of convictions in 2002. Three people died from drunken driving collisions in 2010, one more than in 2002.
But Magistrate Phillip Kring said those arguments concerning drunken drivers and alcohol abuse are irrelevant, since the county has been allowing certain establishments to sell alcohol since 2002.
“Most of what I’ve heard is not opposition to Sunday sales; it was to sales to alcohol,” Kring said. ‘Well, that battle’s already been fought, so that’s a non-issue.”
Kring, like Sparks, said he would like to see the county lift the ban on Sunday alcohol sales completely.
“You can buy a bottle of beer at a restaurant, or several beers, and drive home … I’d much rather see a guy get a six-pack and take it home,” Kring said.
As a former tour guide for Woodford Reserve, Magistrate Huston Wells said he understands how Buffalo Trace would benefit from Sunday samples and sales of alcohol.
Lifting the ban to help other businesses, Wells said, can be determined down the road.
“I’m only voting on this issue (of Sunday sales at distilleries),” Wells said.
“If we have to cross a bridge, I’ll come across that bridge at that time.”
In other action Thursday:
>The court passed both the County Clerk and Sheriff’s Office budgets for 2012. The County Clerk will receive 2 percent more than what he received in 2010 to put toward raises, and employees within the sheriff’s department will receive 1 percent raises. Sheriff Pat Melton originally proposed a budget nearly 10 percent higher than 2010’s budget, but made several revisions after the court asked him to trim it.
>The court approved an authorization for the Franklin County Fire Department to hire another firefighter.
>The Road Department received authorization to purchase a used 1999 LeBoy Asphalt Maintainer for $15,000.