Voters back package alcohol sales in Manchester

Manchester voters approved package alcohol sales in the city in a special election Tuesday.

The measure passed by a margin of 381 votes to 249, according to County Clerk Michael Baker. Turnout for the controversial measure was about 42 percent — 630 of 1,495 eligible voters went to the polls.

James "Tee" Pennington, who helped organize support for the measure, said he thought it carried because of the potential for alcohol sales to bring an economic boost.

"People are feeling the pinch," he said.

The vote allows the sale of liquor, wine and beer at package stores in town, and beer at other spots, such as convenience stores, said Pennington.

The vote also gives the city council authority to approve alcohol sales at some restaurants, Pennington said.

The issue was hotly debated in the months leading up to the vote, as is usually the case with votes on legalizing liquor sales in Kentucky.

Opponents argued legalizing sales in the city would mean more drinking and more alcohol-related problems, such as drunken driving.

Local residents have battled a debilitating level of prescription-drug abuse, and legalizing sales of another widely abused drug would undermine that fight, alcohol opponents said.

Ken Bolin, who pastors Manchester Baptist Church, said jobs that will come with alcohol sales won't be enough to counter the ill effects he and other opponents fear.

"Ultimately, I think the impact will be negative," Bolin said.

Supporters of the measure contended legal sales would be a clear economic plus in one of the poorest counties in the nation.

In addition to creating revenue for the city and jobs at liquor stores, legal sales in Manchester will keep money at home that now flows to outlets in Hazard or other places where Clay County residents go to buy alcohol, said Pennington.

"First and foremost, we're looking at jobs this would bring in," Pennington said.

Pennington, who plans to begin law school this fall, also said statistics show more drunken driving fatalities in dry counties.

With the vote, Manchester became the 21st "moist" community in Kentucky, meaning a city with legal sales in an otherwise dry county.

It will be at least 60 days after the vote is certified before the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control will issue licenses for legal sales in Manchester.