Craft breweries and distilleries may end up having more reason to come to Garden City if local officials approve a new ballot question in the upcoming November election.
Next week, representatives from the Finney County Economic Development Corp. will be asking local governing bodies to approve the addition of a ballot question in the next election that would allow residents of Finney County to vote for the removal of a regulation requiring county businesses selling liquor by the drink to generate 30 percent of their revenue from food sales, or be designated as a private club.
During its monthly meeting, the FCEDC board broached the issue in preparation for the first opportunity in two years to make the change at the ballot. FCEDC President Lona DuVall said local officials have talked with brewers over the last few years about locating in Garden City, and many have chosen other communities “simply because they didn’t want to have to run a restaurant.”
Kansas law only allows county residents to vote for a change to their liquor-by-the-drink laws on general election ballots with statewide offices at stake.
Even if county commissioners decide not to put the issue to ballot themselves, area residents can do so through a petition, as long as its signatories include 10 percent of electors that participated in the previous statewide general election and voted for the office of secretary of state.
As the gubernatorial election approaches in November, which will include the option to vote for a new secretary of state, Kansas counties will have the opportunity to re-evaluate their liquor-by-the-drink regulations.
Under Kansas law, counties are categorized in three ways: dry counties that do not allow sales of liquor by the drink, wet counties that place no requirements on sales of liquor by the drink, and wet counties that require businesses selling liquor by the drink to generate 30 percent of their revenues from food sales.
Finney County falls into the third category, but local officials have been in talks for months about the possibility of doing away with that status. Many counties in Kansas already have chosen to strike the food sale regulation, and according to the FCEDC, Kansas has seen a significant rise in the establishment of distilleries and breweries in recent years.
In 1881, Kansas became the first state to enact prohibition of alcohol. Still, it was the last state to allow the sale of liquor by the drink — with a constitutional amendment enacted in 1986, 105 years later.
As of January 2017, 66 of Kansas’ 105 counties still had the food sale requirement, while 33 "wet" counties did not. Six counties remained dry, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue, and four of those counties are in southwest Kansas, including Meade, Haskell, Gray and Stanton counties.
Ford, Grant, Stevens, Morton, Lane, Scott, Wichita and Greeley counties allow sales of liquor by the drink without a food rule.
Before Kansas’ constitutional amendment was enacted to allow liquor by the drink, opponents to the measure argued that the death toll on state highways would increase, along with domestic violence and child neglect, even as proponents of the amendment harped on the economic limitations brought by alcohol prohibition.
“Everybody knows when more people are allowed to drink on more occasions in more places, the highway death toll increases, as does the tragedy of wife and child abuse and child absenteeism,” said the Rev. Richard E. Taylor, a Methodist minister who led Kansans for Life at Its Best, in 1985.
Shannon Dick, the FCEDC’s lead strategic analyst, analyzed crime rates in wet counties that dropped their food rule. He found that the change did not result in a visible increase to countywide crime rates, instead noting an overall reduction in crime following deregulation.
“While we’re not saying that full liquor by the drink actually is responsible for lowering their crime rates," DuVall said, “I think it does indicate certainly that it doesn’t create more crime just to simply have liquor by the drink with no food requirement.”
Counties that removed the food rule include Barton, Crawford, Douglas, Edwards, Ellis, Geary, Leavenworth, Lyon, Riley, Saline, Shawnee, Wyandotte and Ford counties. Data was sourced from each county except for Ford, which removed its regulation most recently in November 2016. All other counties changed their liquor laws between 1988 and 2010.
Dick examined data from those counties provided by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which tabulates violent crime and property crime rates by county in a crime index.
“The average rate for each of these categories was figured from the three years before the food requirement was voted on to the three years after the vote was passed,” Dick wrote. “For example, Riley County voted to remove the food requirement in 2004, so we looked at the crime rates from 2001-2003 and compared them to 2005-2008.”
Using that information, Dick found that the indexed crime rate saw an overall reduction of 3.1 percent after the food rule was lifted, while violent crime was down 9.8 percent and property crime was down 2.7 percent.
When measured separately, the five most recent counties to enact the change saw even bigger results. The indexed crime rate in those counties saw an overall reduction of 11.7 percent, violent crime saw a reduction of 27.8 percent and property crime saw a reduction of 10.2 percent.
Dick noted that not all counties saw a reduction in crime. “However,” he wrote, “this is evidence that lifting the food sales requirement will not lead to an increase in crime.”
Lt. Steve Martinez of the Finney County Sheriff’s Office, who sits on the FCEDC board, said he doesn’t anticipate the change to adversely affect law enforcement procedures.
FCEDC Vice Chairman Bob Kreutzer said he views the change as a necessary step in the revitalization of downtown Garden City.
“I think it’d be nothing but a positive step,” Kreutzer said, noting that breweries and distilleries could fill downtown vacancies.
A microbrewery with a restaurant component already has begun construction on Main Street. The project is part of an entrepreneurial effort by Jorge Guzman, owner of Las Margaritas Mexican Restaurant, and his partner, Carlos Mantilla, owner of a produce export company in South America. The brewery will be located in the 200 block of Main Street at the former location of Bike Rack Inc.
The FCEDC board unanimously voted to support the liquor law change, and officials will voice their support to county commissioners on Monday.
Contact Mark Minton at email@example.com