County Holds Off on Resolution Against Privatizing Alcohol Sales
Action by a state association is expected to influence the county commissioners’ decision about privatization of the Alcoholic Beverage Control system.
At a Tuesday meeting, the commissioners agreed to table adoption of a resolution supporting the current system of state control of alcoholic beverage sales. ABC boards appointed by the county commissioners administer these programs in each county.
The resolution drafted by County Attorney Misty Leland and Assistant County Manager Ken Larking shows that the ABC system generated local revenue totaling $461,632 in the 2009-10 fiscal year.
Much of that money was distributed to law enforcement agencies and to mental health programs serving patients with alcohol abuse problems.
In 2009 the previous board of commissioners adopted a similar resolution.
“The wordings of the two resolutions are similar but make a big difference in fighting privatization,” said John Garner, chairman of the Moore County ABC Board, in a letter to Nick Picerno, chairman of the commissioners.
Garner said the local ABC board strongly opposes privatization for a number of reasons, starting with the loss of revenue to counties, towns and rehabilitation programs.
Other reasons include more burden on law enforcement agencies, increased crime and health related problems, increase in number of liquor stores and increase in access to underage drinkers.
ABC stores in Moore County also generated more than $2 million in revenue to the state.
Critics of the present system charge that state ownership constitutes a monopoly and stifles free enterprise and causes artificially high prices of alcoholic beverages.
A movement toward privatization picked up support two years ago after scandals emerged in Mecklenburg and New Han-over counties. These problems involved such issues as payment of high salaries to ABC staffers and lavish service at meetings and conferences. No such problems occurred in Moore County or in neighboring counties.
Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, and state Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger have publicly announced support for the existing state-controlled ABC system.
A major address delivered by Perdue in Pinehurst last month spurred the hopes of privatization backers.
But Perdue dashed those hopes with an announcement that she wants to retain North Carolina’s ABC system.
She made her views known in an address Thursday at the legislative goals conference of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. The conference was held in Durham.
Perdue said her decision comes after an independent review of the potential profitability of selling the system as well as the potential effects on the health and safety of North Carolinians.
That review indicates that a one-time sale would generate about $300 million to the state. The report added that the only way to raise enough money to make the sale practical to the state would be to open up liquor sales at a much broader level, a sale that could generate an estimated $1 billion or more.
“I don’t want to be the governor who has to hold my granddaughter’s hand as we walk past the liquor bottles on our way to the toy aisle in Walmart or toward the cereal in Food Lion,” Perdue said. “That isn’t North Carolina. That isn’t who we are or what we want to become.”
Perdue quoted a report showing that North Carolina is tied at 44th in per capita liquor consumption, one of the lowest in the nation. In the previous year, ABC store sales added $200 million to the state general fund and provided another $51 million to local governments.
However, Berger said that he would be willing to consider privatization at a future time when the state’s fiscal condition is much improved.
Berger said in a statement released Thursday, “I share Gov. Perdue’s concerns regarding the sustainability of revenue derived from the ABC system. Our state is facing a massive $3.7 billion budget deficit and a nearly 10 percent unemployment rate. Our No. 1 priority must be to balance the budget and foster an environment where the private sector can create jobs.
“I believe that we should continue to look at opportunities for privatizing governmental functions and continue to consider privatizing the ABC system. However, the decision to privatize should be a carefully considered long term policy decision and not a short term decision based on the state’s budget.”
The subject is expected to arise when the N.C. General Assembly convenes Jan. 26. The state ABC Commission is compiling data to present to the legislature.
The resolution before the county commissioners says that “when local voters approved liquor sales for off-premises consumption, the voters did not vote to allow liquor to be sold in private retail establishments, but only through publicly controlled local ABC stores.”
The resolution adds that the ABC sales profits generate a revenue stream that “is a critical source of local government funding.”
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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