SALISBURY – A work session to discuss the sale of wine at county liquor dispensaries has been tentatively scheduled for next month.
At the request of the Wicomico County Council, the county’s Liquor Control Board is tentatively scheduled to meet with the legislative body on Dec. 15 to discuss the termination of wine sales at local liquor dispensaries, according to the council’s office.
The meeting will come more than a month after Council President Larry Dodd penned a letter to Liquor Control Board Chairman Donald Ewalt requesting Wicomico liquor dispensaries refrain from selling wine and all malt and wine-based products effective Jan. 1, 2021.
In late October, the council agreed to forward its request to the control board at the suggestion of Councilman John Cannon. He argued the move would limit competition with the private sector.
“The idea here is to try and eliminate as much government competition with the private sector,” Cannon said at the time. “It’s just one step toward that. There are many businesses that I’ve talked with that are very concerned with the fact that they are trying to survive through this COVID crisis … Maybe it’s time for the county not to compete in beer and wine sales.”
By way of background, legislation in 2000 gave dispensaries the legal right to sell beer and wine. But in 2008, the county and the liquor dispensary reached a verbal agreement that its stores would not sell beer moving forward. Dodd’s letter to Ewalt states as much.
But when asked for input as to whether liquor dispensaries should sell beer and wine, the council in October received a reply from the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce.
“In response to this inquiry, the County Council received a letter dated October 14, 2020 from William R. Chambers, President/CEO of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce indicating the sale of beer and wine under the dispensing authority of the Liquor Control Board is another intrusion into the free market system,” Dodd wrote to Ewalt last month.
Dodd also cited a 2016 news article, in which Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said government’s removal from the alcohol sales business would lower costs, improve customer service and expand product selection.
In Wicomico, local liquor dispensaries provide the county with a steady revenue stream, which has continued to increase since 2008, according to Dodd. In fiscal year 2020, for example, the county brought in $899,600 from the dispensaries.
But Dodd noted that Wicomico was one of the few Maryland counties to have liquor dispensaries.
“Many of the liquor dispensary systems in Maryland have been replaced over the years with privatized stores,” he wrote to Ewalt. “The Wicomico County Liquor Dispensary system is one of the few still in operation.”
Dodd said the council has tried to schedule meetings with the Liquor Control Board for months. He said the council’s request will be discussed in detail at the future work session.
“As opposed to going to the state of Maryland and changing state law through the Eastern Shore delegation, maybe we just do it amongst ourselves and hopefully we’ll get a compromise from the dispensary where they’ll agree to go along,” Cannon told the council last month.
At that meeting, Councilman Bill McCain said the issue of liquor dispensaries was an ongoing debate in Wicomico.
“It’s been a 15-year discussion to be frank,” he said.
Cannon said the elimination of the county’s liquor dispensary could be a discussion for another year.
“It is an issue every council’s been concerned about, competing with the local sector,” he said. “This is just a small change.”