Commissioners To Stay Course On Phasing Out Liquor Operation

SNOW HILL – The head of the Worcester County Department of Liquor Control used an audience with local leaders this week to again share his concerns about the county’s plan to get out of the liquor business by 2017.

Bobby Cowger, head of the Worcester County Department of Liquor Control (DLC), told the county commissioners this week he thought extending the so-called exit strategy would reduce the financial hit the county is set to take.

“I’ve looked at this every way possible,” Cowger said. “With three years, we could gradually move inventory.”

Cowger made his pitch for a more gradual end for the department after presenting price cuts he plans to make to reduce inventory as 2017 nears. The county commissioners agreed last year that liquidating the department — ending wholesale operations in the fall of 2016 and ceasing retail sales by summer 2017 — was the best way to curtail the department’s growing losses.

“You guys have made the decision,” Cowger said. “The decisions you make are the decisions we move forward with. Trying to dissolve out is going to be difficult to do in the short period of this exit strategy.”

Cowger said shutting down the liquor operation in a year and a half was going to have a big impact on taxpayers.

“There’s no question you’re going to lose money …,” he said. “To me that’s not a responsible thing to do to the taxpayers.”

Making the process more gradual, he said, would give the department more time to reduce its debt and inventory.

“Dissolve this over three years so the taxpayers don’t get hurt,” he said.

Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw credited Cowger for the work he’d done as head of the DLC. Commissioner Bud Church offered similar comments.

“I wouldn’t want to be in your position,” he said. “To dissolve a business is not easy.”

Church asked Cowger if two years would be a sufficient amount of time to reduce inventory.

“We’ve made a tremendous amount of cuts that would help,” Cowger said.

He said the department would never make a profit again, as it wasn’t able to compete with the larger wholesale companies now in business in the area. It does, however, continue to supply alcohol to smaller establishments. Cowger said it had maintained about 40 percent of its wholesale business by supplying the smaller bars that weren’t targeted by the larger wholesalers.

“We provide a service to them they’re not going to get when we go out of business,” he said.

Commissioner Jim Bunting told Cowger he was there to get approval on inventory pricing, not to rehash the exit strategy.

“The commissioners have already voted on those dates,” he said.

Lockfaw agreed to make a motion approving the pricing but stressed that he wanted to ensure the commissioners had all the facts as the process to dissolve the DLC began.

“I do feel it’s our responsibility in implementing this strategy to make sure as little damage as possible is done to taxpayers,” he said. “I think you’ve always got to be open minded and listen. If we go out of here with a $2 or $3 million debt, it’s not going to look good.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.