County’s Liquor Control Grab Puzzling

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The ongoing controversy surrounding the Liquor Control Board for Worcester County (LCB) took another step this week. The problem is it went severely in the wrong direction.

The idea to create a Worcester County Liquor Control Department is not only a blindside to all the parties involved but also a mistake. This will immediately become regrettable for all involved and represents an inconsistent approach to government by county officials who recently merged three planning county departments into one in the name of efficiency and cost cutting.

For decades, we have been troubled by the liquor buying process in Worcester County and the fact a monopoly governs it. The LCB is unnecessary in this county, and there’s no reason why bars, restaurants and liquor retail stores should have to buy through this entity, consequently paying much more than competitors a few miles to the north.

Sure, there have been over the years some ethical and criminal violations associated with the LCB management, some charges that have been proven and heard in a court of law, but that’s not the point here today. A change is needed to correct a fundamental flaw in the spirit-buying process that has existed for decades.

This week the county came up with its idea of a solution, announcing a plan to submit legislation to bring the LCB under its purview. It’s an indefinite absorption aimed at protecting the liquor business and retaining jobs.

As is consistent with how the county routinely does business, this move evidently came after a number of private meetings and absolutely no public discussion. At least one commissioner asked this week to comment on the maneuver said mysteriously time was needed to digest the decision.

The true problem with this move is it does nothing to alter the distribution process, and that’s the major issue here.

The county is wrong. It has no right or reason to be involved in this process, besides the obvious financial implications. This should be a private sector matter, and some of the commissioners agree, raising questions of why this move was approved. The only logical answer is it’s about the money.

It’s no secret the county is going to be in terrible financial shape in the near future. The next fiscal year is expected to be okay, but it’s the one after that causing heartburn among County Commissioners, leading some to privately warn large tax increases will be coming for fiscal year 2013.

Why the county wants or even thinks it can handle this liquor situation is beyond our understanding. The only possible reason comes down to dollars and cents. Some folks in Snow Hill must think this is an opportunity for a new revenue stream that previously did not exist.

The only way this money grab by the county is acceptable is if there’s a sunset provision in place that will open up the buying process within a few years. However, the county is not willing to put that down on paper and submit it with the legislation. Instead, a vague statement in the press release said, “upon the establishment of the Worcester County Liquor Control Department, the County Commissioners may consider to eventually curtail the monopoly of wholesale liquor.”

That ambiguity is unacceptable, and the shore’s delegation in Annapolis should require some sort of documented phase-out plan before introducing any legislation. Much more work is needed here, and the public has the right to see this deliberation play out.

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