BERLIN – Earlier this month a collection of Worcester County businesses that hold liquor licenses petitioned the Worcester County Board of Commissioners to support proposed legislation that would allow them to opt out of making their liquor purchases from the Worcester County Liquor Control Board (LCB).
The Worcester County Alliance for Fair Markets (WCAFM) told the commissioners they hoped instead to be able to purchase the opt out privilege for $2,000 per year to offset the profits the liquor board normally makes as a county revenue center.
The commissioners decided not to rule at that time and have since heard from the liquor board, which presents a very different opinion of the matter. In to a letter dated Jan. 21, John Phoebus, attorney for the Liquor Control Board, told Worcester County Commission President Bud Church the profit margins and participation levels represented by the WCAFM were inaccurate.
Phoebus claimed that only the top one-third of licensees would benefit from an opt-out program and that the bottom two-thirds would not be able to profitably participate. Because of the nature of the Ocean City liquor purchasing culture, the dominant third accounts for 85 percent of the total LCB gross annual income.
Given the magnitude of the largest liquor purchasers’ affect on revenues, Phoebus said that $2,000 per licensee wasn’t sufficient to support the revenue to which both the county and the municipalities have become accustomed.
Phoebus also warned that the loss of revenue would have a greater than anticipated affect not only on the county’s revenue stream but on the service the LCB would be able to supply the firms that choose not to opt out. If the opt out plan was passed, he claimed, the LCB would be forced to close the Ocean City Dispensary, discontinue delivery and fire 13 people.
Small business owners, many of whom were signatories on the WCAFM petition, would also lose the convenience of being able to order from one central facility, having instead to deal with each purveyor individually.
When Joe Moore, attorney for the WCAFM, testified before the commissioners last month he claimed that state Sen. Jim Mathias and Delegate Michael McDermott had already indicated they would support the measure if the commissioners gave their endorsement.
Although the commissioners did not discuss whether or not they will eventually support the measure during their most recent meeting, the time-sensitive issue is likely to be resolved in the coming days.
Church addressed questions about the decision-making process at the end of the most recent commissioners meeting by saying he and the other commissioners had been in contact with the relevant parties and understood the gravity of the pending decision.
“I’m guessing by the end of the week we’ll come to a decision,” he said.