A bill that passed the Kentucky House and Senate would eliminate extra costs for local option elections if Gov. Matt Bevin signs it into law.
House Bill 319, sponsored by Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, would allow local option elections to be held simultaneously with primary and general elections. Local option elections most often decide whether or not to allow alcohol sales in an area.
The bill also requires that the individual or group filing the petition for a local option election must cover all costs if they want the measure to be considered separately from regularly scheduled elections. The bill passed the House and Senate in a bipartisan manner and legislators expect Bevin will sign it.
"I would say that all county clerks are excited to see this happen because there have been years we've had two or three special elections," said Graves County Clerk Devonda Wilford. "Besides the expense, it's a lot of work to have an election."
Deputy Election Clerk Kim Gills said that although HB 319 would allow a local option election to be held separately if petition circulators paid for it, she doesn't think it is likely that would happen because few could afford it. It would still take a lot of effort from deputy clerks if an election were held separately from a regularly scheduled election, but taxpayers would at least not be on the hook for it, she said.
"We've been wanting for this for a long time," Gills said. "It's a lot of work to get a special election together. It's just like a regular election. It may be one precinct, but you've still got to do everything you would do for a big election."
Former County Clerk Barry Kennemore, who retired at the end of February, said the law would have saved Graves County tens of thousands of dollars in the last two years alone. In September 2015, Fancy Farm residents voted in a special election to allow Fancy Farm Winery to sell its products. Another petition brought a countywide alcohol election in January 2016, which voters rejected. Finally, a citywide election in June 2016 resulted in Mayfield going wet.
Kennemore said that because of the work involved, it costs taxpayers $10,000-$12,000 to have a local option election in just one precinct.
He estimated that the Mayfield referendum cost about $15,000 and the countywide vote cost around $50,000.
"I think it's a good bill and would save taxpayers money," Kennemore said.
"Elected officials have a duty to be responsible with every tax dollar spent," Imes said in a news release from the House Republican Caucus. "This measure will allow county officials to be fiscally conservative in the way tax dollars are spent on elections by no longer having special elections on county-specific issues."