First Posted: 4/13/2009
J.D. Bartley, the chairman of Mount Airys ABC Board, didnt mince words Monday when asked for his opinion on a state proposal that would take control of liquor stores away from localities.
I can tell you it stinks! Bartley said of legislation recently introduced in the N.C. General Assembly aimed at modernizing North Carolinas alcoholic beverage control system.
While modernization might sound OK on the surface, the plan would greatly increase state authority over the 157 local ABC boards across North Carolina, including the power to require the merger of all boards in a county into a single system. That could legislate many local boards out of existence.
The proposal also would allow the state to develop and enforce performance standards for boards, close ones that Raleigh considers low-performing and contract with private entities to sell spirits, according to City Manager Don Brookshire.
As if those changes were not enough, Bartley also is concerned about another possible ramification of state legislative actions: sales by liquor stores on Sunday. The Sunday-sales plan, advocated by a Cumberland County senator, would generate at least $5.5 million in extra taxes per year, based on estimates from the Distilled Spirits Council.
Now, in a rural community like this, were not going to open on Sunday, the local ABC Board chairman said in discussing how the sweeping state controls might not take such local wishes into account.
If we dont know whats good for our communities, how do you expect the people in Raleigh to know? added Bartley, who labeled the state plan as another attempt to move control from localities to a central power. Just more government, is his assessment of the legislative move.
Bartley said he can see nothing of benefit in the proposal, explaining that it could affect profits generated by smaller liquor stores and pose additional problems, especially in a county such as Surry. It now has four ABC boards in each of its municipalities, including one for a new liquor store approved in Pilot Mountain.
A merger of these would result in one manager for all the stores, one warehouse and many travel and logistical concerns, according to Bartley. He said that while such a plan might be good for a metropolitan area, it just doesnt make sense in a sprawling county such as Surry.
If the legislation is approved, the N.C. ABC Commission would have authority to devise performance-improvement plans for a local system, and if those measures arent met, to seize all assets of the local board and take appropriate action to ensure profitability.
They dont need to be fixing something thats not broke, Bartley said, pointing out that the Mount Airy ABC Stores annual profits are in excess of $200,000. About $12,000 goes to the city police department, in addition to money for the local library, Surry Arts Council, community center, alcoholism treatment and the municipalitys general fund.
If the state proposal becomes reality, there would have to be a deconglomeration of the profit distribution, Bartley said.
The Mount Airy ABC chairman also objects to another part of the state proposal that would allow North Carolina to operate agency stores in addition to regular ABC outlets. Bartley said that under this scenario, a small country store, for example, could designate a part of its business for liquor sales.
That situation also is troubling to Brookshire, the city manager. He is recommending that the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners approve a resolution at its meeting this week scheduled Thursday at 7 p.m. supporting local control of ABC boards and opposing that by the state.
Brookshire said the state proposal would go against the original wishes of Mount Airy residents in approving liquor sales in the late 1970s. Citizens voted to create a local ABC store and board, not to allow sales of bottled spirits through an agency store or similar means.
The vote of the local citizens should be respected, the city manager said.
Along with registering Mount Airys official opposition to the proposed state changes, the intent of the resolution the commissioners will consider this week is making that stance known to the local legislative delegation in Raleigh.
The state proposals are the result of recommendations suggested in December by the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee. Its report concluded that a weak state ABC Commission has allowed unacceptable inefficiencies throughout the system.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.