In a highly divided vote, Grove City Borough residents narrowly passed the alcohol referendum on Tuesday’s ballot, overturning the town’s dry status for possibly the first time in its history.

Alcohol-serving businesses will now be permitted to operate within the borough, but first must be approved for a liquor license by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

According to the Mercer County Government Web site, 1,529 residents voted on the alcohol referendum.

About 52 percent of those votes – 802 – voted in favor of the referendum, while 727 residents, or 48 percent, voted against it. There was a difference of only 75 votes.

At the polls Tuesday, several Grove City Borough voters shared their views on the alcohol referendum.

“It’d be nice to have a nice restaurant, not a bar, to go to in town,” said Dan Sindlinger, who voted in favor of the referendum Tuesday. “It would help with the economy.”

Kay Dannels, Grove City Chamber of Commerce office manager, also voted in favor of the alcohol referendum because she believes it will bring businesses to Grove City.

“I think it’ll help make downtown more attractive,” she added.

Polls were open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in all five wards of Grove City.

Grove City Borough resident Stephen Steigerwald, who led the petition drive for the alcohol referendum in late February, said he was “extremely pleased” with the results of the vote.

“To me, the most important thing was that, for the first time, people in Grove City had the right to vote on (the alcohol referendum),” Steigerwald said. “It’s the will of the people.”

Steigerwald also said he believes residents who voted against the referendum would eventually come around to see that it will help revitalize downtown.

“All (people) in life are leery of change,” he said. “I’ll be the first one reminding them that in four years, (the referendum) could be voted back out. It’s a great safety net.”

While many residents who voted against the referendum did not want to go on record with their statements, a common theme among them was to keep Grove City the way it is.

“I feel the complexion and culture in town will definitely change (now that the referendum passed),” said Harry Lutton the day after the election. “I’m definitely against (the referendum) but we can live with it. Everybody who voted ‘no’ will have to live with it, just as if it had gone the other way.”

Lutton, who wrote a letter to the editor against the alcohol referendum and participated in a roundtable discussion last week at Allied News, said apathy among citizens was a major reason the referendum passed.

“I feel that, as usual, apathy on the part of people who say, ‘Who cares (about the referendum)?’ let it pass,” Lutton said.

Lutton said he was very surprised when he heard the results of the election, since he believed the referendum would fail. He also said he could not foresee any positives to the referendum passing.

“The negatives will show up in the headlines, and I can’t see any positives at this point,” Lutton said.

According to Nick Hays, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, two liquor licenses could be issued in Grove City Borough.

“The basic rule is that one retail license may be issued for every 3,000 residents of a county,” Hays said. “However, hotels, airport restaurants, off-track wagering restaurants and certain golf course facilities are among the establishments that may receive licenses beyond the quota, should the municipality approve.”

While the alcohol referendum vote was highly polarized, Grove City residents were not so divided on the issue of the Taxpayer Relief Act, or Act 1, referendum.

The Act 1 referendum, which would have imposed an additional .4 percent earned income tax to residents in order to reduce district taxes on residential properties by an estimated $210 to $220, was decisively shot down by Grove City voters.

According to the Mercer County Government Web site, out of the 2,749 residents who voted on the Act 1 ballot, 1,840 of them, or 67 percent, voted no on the referendum, while 909 residents, 33 percent, voted yes.

In similar fashion, no district in Mercer County voted to pass the Act 1 referendum.

In other election news:

ä David Rothman, Barbara Hedegore, James Crow, Susan Herman and William Berger won the primary vote and will be up for election in November to serve on Grove City Area Board of Directors.

Rothman, Hedegore, Crow and Herman currently serve on the board, while Berger seeks to replace Robert Montgomery.

ä Patrick Chapman, Joseph Pisano, Jeffrey Black and Michael Coulter won the primary vote for Grove City Borough Council seats and will be up for election in November.

Chapman, of Ward 2, hopes to take over for Scott Nelson, while Pisano, of Ward 3, seeks to take over for Tom Nesbit.

Coulter, of Ward 1, beat incumbent Beth Cooney by 68 votes in the only contested race on the ballot. Coulter received 135 votes, or 66.5 percent, while Cooney received 67 votes, 33 percent.

While there was no official candidate for Ward 4, Jeff Hodge received the majority of the write-in votes for Bill Limberg’s council seat.

Only 25 percent of registered Mercer County voters participated in Tuesday’s election, according to the Mercer County Government Web site. The total number of ballots cast was 19,567 out of 77,958 registered voters.

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