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Is the county next?

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Fiscal court asked to revise county's alcohol ordinance

By Stephen Lega

The day after the City of Lebanon approved the second reading of an amended alcohol ordinance, a similar request was presented to the Marion County Fiscal Court.

The city's ordinance allows Sunday alcohol sales by the drink as well as packaged sales, and it extends the sales hours until 1 a.m. (although state laws end packaged sales hours at midnight).

Dennis George of Clark Distributing encouraged the fiscal court to adopt an ordinance similar to the one approved by the city. Representatives of businesses in the county that sell alcohol were also present for the county's July 16 meeting.

George said the county businesses wanted the change so they would be on a level playing field with businesses in Nelson County and Lebanon.

"It's very tough in retail right now ...," George said, later adding, "Every penny that comes in is very important."

George was on the Lebanon City Council when it approved Sunday sales by the drink last December. The council had no intention of considering Sunday packaged sales at that time, he said, but it became an issue in the city because Nelson County and Bardstown did just that.

In the past, local governments have provided economic incentives to attract new businesses to the community. George said they should be willing to do something for existing businesses as well.

He added that county officials may hear that some retailers are against Sunday sales because they don't want to be open on Sundays. If the county allows Sunday sales, it would still be up to those business owners to decide if they wanted to be open on Sundays, he said.

At the same time, he argued that Sunday has become one of the busiest grocery shopping days. If customers can get everything they want, including alcohol, on Sundays at Wal-Mart or Kroger, it could affect businesses like Loretto Foodland, according to George.

He concluded his remarks by saying that the county will receive additional occupational tax revenue as a result of Lebanon allowing Sunday sales. The county would get a greater benefit by allowing Sunday sales in the rest of the county as well, he said.

Magistrate Roger "Cotton" Smothers said George was a good salesman, but Smothers still had some concerns about George's request. First, Smothers disputed a statement by George that alcohol is good for people when it's used in a proper manner.

"You're one of the few I've heard say that," Smothers said.

George clarified that a beer is not harmful, whereas a cigarette is. There are health benefits of alcohol consumption, he said, adding that he does not condone overconsumption.

Smothers said the magistrates will have to look at the whole picture when they consider this issue.

"That's what we all got to look at and make a conscious decision from that standpoint," he said.

As far as the businesses are concerned, Smothers said that he did not believe that any business would close just because it could not sell alcohol on Sundays.

George agreed that Sunday sales alone would not keep a business open, but they could lose customers.

He then asked if the county would pass a law prohibiting businesses from being open on Sundays. Smothers said he would not.

"But you're telling him that he can't sell a commodity that you have in your store," George said.

Magistrate Steve Masterson said if Lebanon and Nelson County had not changed their alcohol ordinances, the request before the fiscal court would not have a chance. However, he said those changes have affected the business conditions in the county.

"I don't want to see our business people put at an economic disadvantage," he said.

Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly said he wished this was an issue that was voted on by the general public, but under state laws, this is something the fiscal court would have to decide.

The county's next regularly scheduled meeting is Aug. 6.

Smothers said he did not think that was enough time to talk to people in his district about the issue or for the county attorney to prepare an amended ordinance for the court to consider.

County Attorney Joe Mattingly said he needed some guidance from the court on the issue.

Magistrates Larry Caldwell and John Arthur Elder III both said they wanted to look over the ordinance adopted by the Lebanon City County.