SNOW HILL – After hearing a proposal from the newly formed Worcester Alliance for Free Market (WAFM) and a rebuttal from the Worcester County Liquor Control Board, County Commission President Bud Church expects the commission to make a ruling regarding the fate of the LCB within the next two weeks.
“We’re working on it daily,” Church said this week.
Last summer, the LCB came under state scrutiny after allegations of trade code violations were discovered. Since then, the LCB has admitted to the violations, but argued they were not severe enough to warrant disbanding the monopoly.
The issue came to a peak last Tuesday when attorney Joe Moore presented a proposal drafted by the WAFM to the commissioners. The proposal petitioned county officials to allow businesses in possession of liquor licenses to pay a $2,000 “opt out” fee in exchange for the right to purchase spirits from distributors besides the LCB.
LCB attorney John Phoebus responded to Moore’s proposal this week with a letter to the commissioners. The letter presented a counter argument to many of Moore’s points, specifically, that the LCB could continue to operate a wholesale division if the opt out fee went into effect.
According to Phoebus, only the top 33 percent or so of licensees would likely take the opt out, but, because the LCB is “top heavy” that 33 percent contribute 85 percent of overall revenue. Phoebus said that loss would buckle the wholesale operation, forcing the LCB to eliminate the division.
However, Church said the commission was aware of the arguments made in the letter well before it was sent out.
“Nothing in there was a major surprise,” said Church. “We knew 98 percent of what was in the letter.”
According to Church, the commissioners have been dealing with questions about the LCB for years. While the WAFM proposal is new, the sentiment behind it goes back a long time, as does the counter argument in the LCB letter.
“The County Commissioners are taking a number of issues under consideration…there’s a lot going on right now…a lot of options on the table,” Church said.
Church was confident that a decision would be reached before the commissioners’ next meeting Feb. 1.
“Nothing is cut in stone at this point,” said Church.
Church added that discussion on the LCB has been ongoing for a long, long time and the commission is ready to “try and put this issue to rest.”