Worcester County will soon be out of the liquor business. The only question is when, and this should not come as a major surprise.
The open marketplace is doing exactly what it was expected to do to the former monopoly — making it unprofitable.
Initially, the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) was estimating it would see a 25-percent decline in revenues as a result of its monopoly expiring in July. It turns out that was naively conservative and the losses have been much more significant, particularly on the wholesale front as major customers, like Seacrets and Fager’s Island, for example, took a bulk of their alcohol purchases to other avenues. DLC Executive Bobby Cowger, who is thought highly of by most of the licensees these days, confirmed in recent months the losses have been more pronounced than initially estimated.
For his part, Cowger realized the ending of the monopoly would have serious consequences and in advance eliminated seven positions to help trim expenses. It’s just not been enough and that’s why Cowger came before the County Commissioners this week seeking approval on price increases for certain products.
Even before the open marketplace, the county’s liquor department was not providing a lot of revenue to the county. While spending approximately $15 million a year for products, retail space rent and employees in the last fiscal year, the net profit came in under $50,000. The department is likely to end up losing money in the current fiscal year even with the price increases approved this week. That cannot be accepted by the county.
The time is now for the Worcester County Commissioners and the county administration to devise a plan to dissolve this department. It needs to shutter the agency and determine the best way to cut its losses over a certain period of time. We think over the next calendar year would be a reasonable course.
This is no longer about the past and all the malfeasance alleged against the DLC’s predecessor, the Liquor Control Board. It’s not about the public’s desire in 1998 to keep the dispensary system. Times have changed and the county does not need to be in this private industry.
With revenues plummeting and all indications pointing to the trend continuing, this is now a simple business decision. The commissioners need to look at it that way and after reviewing all the budget specifics involving inventory, retail store leases and employees devise an exit strategy that benefits the county all the way around.