It’s not a question of if Worcester County will shutter its liquor retail and wholesale operation. It’s more about how to do it in a smart financial way and when.
How exactly it will get out of the liquor business is under consideration, but clearly the County Commissioners are committed to end the operation. That much we know from a draft of the Worcester County Commissioners’ Strategic Plan, which it meant to serve as a guide for the present elected officials’ terms in office.
A memo included in the media’s packet at the County Commissioners meeting touched upon the liquor issue and how the sunset clause that opened the marketplace for bars and restaurants has “proved challenging to the continued profitability of DLC operations.”
The memo’s language read, “… the County Commissioners have directed staff to develop an Exit Strategy that could be instituted at some point in the future to guide the orderly withdraw from wholesale and/or retail sales of alcoholoic beverages in Worcester County. The Exit Strategy shall consider actions necessary to eventually wind down DLC operations with the least possible impact on DLC staff, the least cost implications to Worcester County and liquidation of current DLC holdings and in a way that will ensure continued fair pricing of alcoholic beverages to Worcester County licensees and retail consumers.”
In a ranking of top five priorities, the exit strategy is tied for second, demonstrating its importance among the current group. The problem is it’s probably going to cost the county a lot of money to shut down the operation, particularly if it’s done abruptly and without a plan that takes into account all the intricacies of employee compensation, retail store leases, insurance policies and inventory liquidation.
The county is right to be deliberate with this process and it must be frugal and let financial issues drive the decision making process. We have advocated for the end of government-run liquor sales for decades, but we don’t want to see it done in a fashion that hurts the county’s taxpayers. That benefits nobody.
While acknowledging the major impact the open market has had on operations, DLC Executive Director Bob Cowger proudly states county tax dollars are not used to fund the department. Instead, revenue from sales funds operations. That reiterates the need to not hurt the county’s budget by dissolving the department.
It might take a couple years for the county to completely divest itself of the liquor department. If that’s the case, patience will be a virtue so long as it’s there are no unrealistic hopes that profits will one day rebound. That will not happen.