SNOW HILL – County officials agreed to sell the Shore Spirits Liquor Mart without competitive bidding this week.
On Oct. 6 the Worcester County Commissioners voted 6-1 to dispose of the store in Pocomoke for $675,000 plus the cost of its inventory. The vote came after attorney Hugh Cropper, representing multiple clients, argued that it should be put out to bid.
“You’ll get more money for the taxpayers,” he said.
In 2017, the commissioners agreed to sell Shore Spirits as the county made its exit from the liquor business. A lawsuit delayed the sale until this summer, however, and the intended buyer backed out of the purchase in August. On Tuesday, county attorney Roscoe Leslie told the commissioners that because they’d advertised their plan to dispose of the store, they just had to hold a public hearing and get a vote of support from at least five of the seven commissioners to move forward with the sale of the property. The resolution in Tuesday’s meeting packet stated the property would be sold for $675,000 plus the cost of inventory.
“Are we obligated to put this out for bid again?” Commissioner Chip Bertino asked.
Leslie said that if five of the seven commissioners voted that it was impractical to go to bid, the property could be disposed of.
“Didn’t we already vote on this a couple sessions ago?” Commissioner Josh Nordstrom asked.
Leslie said the commissioners voted to move forward with the plan, but the county had to advertise and host a public hearing for objections.
During the hearing, Cropper was the only person to voice objections to the sale. He said county code stated the commissioners had to invite competitive bids unless it was impractical to do so.
“This case is the opposite of impractical,” he said. “There’s nothing to stop you from putting this out to competitive bids.”
He added that one of his clients—who had bid unsuccessfully on the store back in 2017—was willing to offer $700,000 for the property. He said that if the store was put out for bid again, his client would bid even more than that for the property.
“What’s happened over the past two years is commercial real estate’s gone up,” Cropper said. “I don’t think anybody would dispute that.”
He added that liquor licenses were more valuable than they had been and that the economy in Pocomoke was picking up, so the store should be worth more than it was in 2017.
“How can you justify leaving money on the table in violation of the county code?” Cropper said, stressing that it was not impractical to get bids. “I understand you’re tired of fooling with it but it’s the right thing to do.”
Bertino pointed out that Cropper represented the person who had filed the lawsuit, delaying the sale of the store for more than two years.
“Don’t be punitive against me because you don’t like me exercising my client’s legal rights,” Cropper said.
Bertino said the county was exercising its own rights now.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said the property had been put out to bid, just not in 2020.
“It was done two years ago,” he said. “It was transparent two years ago.”
Bertino agreed and said that if the sale had gone through when the bids were initially made the county would have gotten more than $900,000 for the property.
“It got held up,” he said. “We right now have the right, we were told it is within our authority, by a 5/7 vote to move forward. This is not an auction. To say ‘we’ll offer $700,000, we’ll offer even more than that,’ it gives the sense this is an auction. It is not. It is the opportunity for us to either accept the deal that was worked out by our attorney or not.”
Cropper asked what about the situation made it impractical to get competitive bids for the property.
“I guess we’ll see what the vote is,” Bertino said.
Commissioner Ted Elder said that because the county had been trying to get out of the liquor business for years, he felt the current offer should be taken.
Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said that Cropper with his offer had made bidding impractical.
“I believe it’s been compromised today by throwing number out at the podium and saying that we will absolutely bid more and here’s a number right now,” Nordstrom said.
Commissioner Jim Bunting said he’d brought up the issue of bidding the last time the commissioners had discussed the sale.
“I felt very strongly it should have been put out for bids but we were assured there was probably no problem with not putting it out to bid,” he said. “After reading this and talk about being impractical, I wish I’d been thinking back then it might have been the wrong thing to do by not putting it out to bid, but that’s water under the bridge.”
The commissioners voted 6-1, with Bunting opposed, to approve the sale of the property.