03/05/09 — County eyes shift in alcohol site sales

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County eyes shift in alcohol site sales

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 5, 2009 1:46 PM

Revenues and control are at stake should the state allow privately-owned and operated "agency stores" to sell the liquor now being sold through the state's ABC stores, Mike Myrick, chairman of the Wayne County ABC Board, told commissioners Tuesday morning.

Myrick appeared before commissioners during their 8 a.m. briefing session to set the stage for them to discuss and put the resolution opposing the move on their consent agenda for their March 17 meeting.

Last year, the Wayne ABC Board sent $1.2 million to the state and $230,000 stayed in the county, Myrick said.

The state's Program Evaluation Division has recommended that the General Assembly authorize the ABC Commission to require local ABC boards to contract with a privately-owned and operated retail outlet to sell liquor when performance standards indicate a store's efficient operation by a board is not possible.

There are 153 ABC boards in the state, including a number of municipal ones, Myrick said. Some are not as self-sufficient as others because of factors such as population or being located in a rural area, he said.

The proposal would apply only to those stores, he said.

The concern, however, is that once the door is open, it couldn't be closed, allowing private sales in other areas as well.

Agency or contract stores could include grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies, he said.

The problem with the state study is that it looked at profitability only and not other issues such as state control and lost revenues, he said.

Myrick presented commissioners with a letter from Jon Carr, legislative counsel for the N.C. Association of ABC Boards.

Carr wrote in the letter that ABC stores employ local residents, many of whom are longtime employees who engage in "responsible sales and who lose their jobs if they sell to an underage or intoxicated person."

Also, in ABC stores there is no incentive to make "irresponsible sales," he wrote.

"Local voters did not vote to allow spirits to be sold in private retail establishments, only through ABC boards," Carr wrote.

Those elections, he said, were "hotly contested."

"We get no revenue for contract stores," Myrick said. "The state would get some. We (ABC stores) will be competing with them."

Commissioner Jack Best asked if the state was going that far, why not just go private all the way.

Myrick said some private states sell liquor at a higher cost than North Carolina, while other states sell it at a lower cost.

"Eighty percent of the revenue that we produce goes to the state," he said. "If it goes away, the state and you lose what money we do give you."

Beer and wine sales already are private and all the county receives is sales tax, he said.

When the system first set up there was a 16 percent excise tax with 8 going to the state and the rest staying in the county. The tax is not collected on beer and wine.

"Now it is 25 percent and the state gets every bit of it. You don't get a dime," he said.

"I can guarantee you that if the state goes private the liquor people are going to lobby that they shouldn't have to pay that excise tax either," he said.

North Carolina is one of the 18 states that retain state control and is the only one where the control is vested in local ABC boards, he said.

Commissioner J.D. Evans asked Myrick to furnish a report with all of the numbers at the March 17 session and to address how the system benefits the county.

Commissioner Andy Anderson agreed control is important and expressed concern as to what would happen should that control be lost.