03/18/09 — Commissioners reject private liquor sales in county

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Commissioners reject private liquor sales in county

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 18, 2009 1:46 PM

A resolution in opposition to privately operated liquor stores and another in support of continued state funding of the Criminal Justice Partnership Program were unanimously approved Tuesday by commissioners.

The board stopped short of promising to use county funds should the state budget ax claim the $121,215 the county receives annually for the Criminal Justice Partnership Program. The county provides another $24,301.

However, County Manager Lee Smith said it is an issue he will look at during budget preparation.

The board's action was prompted by comments by state officials that the funding might be cut to help offset a $3.4 billion state budget shortfall.

The money is used to help fund the county's Day Reporting Center, a program that looks for alternatives to jail such as the county's electronic monitoring program.

Center Director Theresa Barratt had written to commissioners asking that they consider funding the program locally should the state pull its funding.

"Without this (Day Reporting Center) and electronic monitoring we would be talking about (new) jail needs now," Smith said.

The center saved the county more than $1.2 million over the past year by reducing jail cost, he said.

The board has been wrestling with what do about chronic overcrowding at the jail -- overcrowding the Day Reporting Center helps relieve.

Smith has said it would cost close to $53 million to build a new, larger jail.

Commissioner Jack Best asked if the board was getting ahead of itself by voting on a resolution before Gov. Beverly Perdue makes a decision on funding cuts.

"I think she needs to know before she sets policy," Smith said. "This is just not going to cost the county, it is going to cost the state."

"She is talking about closing five prisons, and I just don't know here she is going to put all of these people," Commissioner John Bell said.

Commissioners unanimously approved the resolution and of sending a letter to the governor and local legislators in support of continued funding.

Loss of funds and control were at the heart of another resolution approved by the board -- opposition to allowing private stores to sell the liquor now controlled through the state's ABC Board system.

A state study recommends that private stores be allowed to sell liquor in counties and municipalities where ABC stores are low-performing.

That, said Wayne County ABC Board business manager Mike Myrick, would open the door for private outlets across the state.

In turn, it would mean a loss of control and tax revenues for counties and municipalities, he said.

For example, Wayne County has received $477,435 since June, 2003, he said. Goldsboro has received $385,193, Mount Olive $78,892 and Fremont $21,428.

"If you go private, all that is produced for the county goes away," he said.

Myrick noted that the ABC Board system had been voted on and approved by state and local voters. Unlike a private store, the ABC Board system is not about profit, but control, he said.

He expressed concern that privatization would make it easier for underage and intoxicated people to purchase liquor. There are concerns, too, he said, about a proliferation of liquor stores.

In response to questioning from Commissioner Jack Best, Myrick said there are "no clearly defined" guidelines as to who could sell liquor. However, private stores could include grocery and convenience stores, Myrick said.

Commissioner Steve Keen agreed. Keen said people must be 21 to work in an ABC Store, while teenagers can work at convenience stores.

People are under constant scrutiny when they enter an ABC Store, Keen said.

However, with all of the activity often found in a convenience store it could be difficult for a teenager to focus just on liquor sales, he said.

Best said that while is a proponent of private enterprise that he, too, is concerned about loss of control. Commissioner Andy Anderson agreed with Best.