Councils Must Weigh In On LCB Debate

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The
Liquor Control Board for Worcester County (LCB) needs to be abolished.

We
thought this back in 1998, the last time the LCB’s future was put before county
voters, and we continue to endorse its abolition today.

Not much
has changed over the last 12 years. The LCB has had several personnel shifts in
leadership and management, but it’s still the same monopoly and middleman it’s
always been. Restaurants, bars and retail stores have to continue to purchase
their spirits from the LCB at whatever elevated rates it wants to set and are
powerless to buy from anyone else. Under the LCB, the local dispensary system
continues to be archaic and in need of a complete overhaul.

Over
the years, one aspect that has changed is the LCB’s financial stability.
According to state law, the LCB must turn over 50 percent of net profits to the
County Commissioners with the remaining 50 percent paid to the governments in
Berlin, Pocomoke, Snow Hill and Ocean City. Although numbers aren’t official
for this year, total distributions from the LCB are expected to come in around
$110,000, compared to more than $850,000 only a few years ago.

Word
this week that it’s under state investigation for improperly charging different
liquor prices for three separate businesses provides further reason for a swift
change in the way the county’s liquor industry is managed. Additionally, word
profit is down and subsequently less and less money is being distributed to the
county and municipalities, while salary, bonuses and travel expenses and liquor
markups have soared, is inexcusable and raising operational and ethical
questions.

Although
lots of accusations have been hurled over the years at the LCB, we don’t think
the folks in charge of the monopoly intentionally aim to rip off bar and
restaurant owners, but it’s clear there are serious operational issues within
the LCB.

The
problems with the LCB start and end with its existence. It’s an unneeded
middleman that causes more money to be spent by restaurant and bar owners on
spirits and subsequently elevates consumer costs.

The
time has long passed for the LCB to step aside and allow wholesale distributors
to deal directly with retail purchasers, eliminating the ridiculous 26-percent
markups that operators must currently endure and inevitably pass on to
restaurant, bar and liquor store patrons.

Supports
of the LCB claim its existence prevents liquor stores from being on every
corner, it’s a non-profit community player that shares its profits with the
county and towns and it keeps honor and safeguards in an industry that
historically has tended to the irresponsible if unchecked.

The
idea the LCB can keep a control on how many liquor stores operate in the county
is off base. The fact is the LCB has no say over how many stores are allowed to
sell liquor in the county. That falls under a different board’s domain. The
idea it’s a community player is undermined when compared to the role each
restaurant, bar and retail store plays with local charitable contributions.

Rather
than a referendum, which will costs all involved thousands of dollars, the
legislature needs to be convinced to do away with this dispensary system. This
needs to be an election year issue for all the candidates in this area.

A
logical starting point here would be for the local elected bodies, like the
County Commissioners and Ocean City Mayor and Council, to hold a vote on the
LCB. Logical minds would easily determine the system is flawed and needs to be
overhauled. No significant improvement will come until the LCB is abolished,
and the local elected bodies need to get the proverbial ball rolling by
weighing in on the matter and letting Annapolis know the county no longer wants
it.

 

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