SNOW HILL — Though some held their breath last weekend, wondering if the ball might be dropped, Worcester County officials proclaimed their first foray into the liquor business went smoothly.
“All orders were filled without event,” said Chief Administrative Officer Gerald Mason. “Things went well over our first holiday weekend.”
While the transition from the quasi-governmental Liquor Control Board (LCB) to the county-run Department of Liquor Control (DLC) has been in the works for months, there were concerns from the beginning that handing off the torch July 1, the county’s busiest weekend of the year, could lead to liquor shortages.
“Up until last Friday, there were some issues,” said Doug “Buxy” Buxbaum, a local liquor license holder and owner of Buxy’s Salty Dog Saloon.
However, Buxbaum revealed that the DLC was able to clear everything up in time for the Independence Day weekend rush, and things went off without a hitch.
“It was very smooth,” he said. “All in all, it went alright.”
Buxbaum placed a lot of the credit for how well the new agency is working on Bob Cowger, the new executive director.
“We have an ear that’s willing to listen,” said Buxbaum.
Though Buxbaum maintains that he and many other license holders in Worcester will likely leave the DLC to purchase liquor wholesale themselves when the option opens, he admitted that, for the time being, liquor control in the county is running better than it has been in years past.
“We do look forward to working with Bob Cowger,” he added.
County Commissioner Judy Boggs remarked that she and the rest of the commission were “delighted there were no glitches” during the DLC’s first weekend in operation. She hopes that the performance will put to rest the doubts of critics who worried about the county takeover.
Besides the status update, county officials briefed the commission on some other policy changes needed for the new DLC. The first was an exemption for the agency from the traditional bidding process other county departments must go through when making certain expenditures.
Finance Officer Harold Higgins explained that it would be impractical for the DLC to run through the bidding process because the average bill from a liquor wholesaler in the summer can exceed $50,000. He asserted that the DLC had “internal controls in place” that would serve as a check system equivalent to traditional bidding. The commission unanimously approved the exemption.
One other policy change that wasn’t as quickly accepted involved the LCB Trust. With the county takeover, most existing LCB employees became DLC employees overnight, and thus eligible for county benefits and retirement plans. However, there are still a number of already retired LCB employees that have to be taken care through the trust fund. While the trust has been dissolved for any future contributors, it still exists to provide benefits for about half a dozen people, according to Higgins. In order to organize the trust, Higgins was appointed sole trustee.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley, however, questioned why the trust couldn’t simply be merged into other county operations, if the fund itself was still kept separate to avoid confusion. He asserted that the county was setting up a situation where there’s “a pot over here and a pot over there” and that it would be easier just to pull everything into an umbrella fund. Shockley said that it wasn’t an issue of trusting Higgins, but a matter of tighter governmental organization.
However, the rest of the commission felt the current plan to keep the trust isolated would be adequate, and Shockley chose to vote with the majority to make Higgins sole trustee.