They pointed out that since 1983 when the state began using the one license per 2,300 residents formula, only two cities voted to go “wet” in the next 25 or so years. But in the last five, 22 cities have approved such referenda, and often those cities can support more than the number of licenses produced by the formula, especially wet cities in otherwise dry counties.
Humphress said the board has in the past awarded all of a county’s potential licenses to wet cities in dry counties, citing Bowling Green as an example. He and Higdon said there were no objections to the change at a public hearing, and economic studies indicate the city can support more than five licenses.
Additionally, Higdon said, if the board allotted licenses based on Pulaski County’s population of 64,000, as it did in Bowling Green, there could be as many as 23 licenses in Somerset.
But several lawmakers objected, led by Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, and Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset.
Lee said it was unfair to the five businesses which had invested money based on their calculation they each would face competition from only four other outlets.
His argument was endorsed by three of the five retailers: Wildcat Beer Wine and Spirits; First Stop Party Supply; and Apple’s Wine and Spirits, all represented by Louisville attorney Jason Nemes. (The other two licenses were awarded to two national drug store chains, Rite-Aid and Walgreens.)
Nemes said it was widely understood at the time of the referendum that only five licenses would be granted, and doubling that number to 10 “is a fraud on the people of Somerset.”
Turner agreed. He said he personally opposed allowing liquor sales in Somerset, “but what is important is what the people voted for. The people voted for five, so that’s what I support.”