By Jeff Linville
Mount Airy News
May 22, 2019
Editor’s Note: The following story is posted with permission from the Mount Airy News. Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League said, “Privatization of liquor sales in North Carolina would be a disaster for public health and safety. A number of other towns and counties across the state have approved resolutions stating their support for the current ABC system and their opposition to privatization. I am thankful every time I read about some local government like Surry County that officially states their support.”
DOBSON — County officials agreed to a resolution supporting local ABC stores at this week’s regular board meeting.
Ron Ashman, of the Yadkin Valley ABC Board in Elkin/Jonesville, came before the Surry County Board of Commissioners Monday night to speak on House Bill 971.
Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-117, Henderson County) sponsored the bill, which would do away with government-controlled ABC stores and allow businesses to seek licenses to sell liquor and malt beverages more like how shops sell beer and wine now.
North Carolina is one of only 13 states to control retail distribution. It is the only state where local government boards have total control over retail liquor sales to consumers.
“It’s time for North Carolina to turn the page on this antiquated system,” McGrady stated in a press release three weeks ago. “I believe that our citizens and our businesses are ready to be treated like we live in the 21st century.”
One of the problems with this bill, from a local perspective, is that it would take effect Jan. 1 rather than giving government bodies time to prepare for the change.
Elkin/Jonesville just opened a new store on N.C. 268 two and a half years ago, noted Ashman. The cost of the land and building left the ABC board with a debt of about $743,000.
Ashman said as he understands it, HB 971 would require that all current ABC stores be liquidated next year. If the Elkin store is liquidated, the ABC board might not have enough funds to pay off the whole debt left.
ABC stores are a source of income for local governments, Ashman said. Each year about $430 million in proceeds are distributed, with more than $80 million of that to local cities or counties, and $8.8 million going to law enforcement agencies.
Even though the new bill would put an excise tax on retail sales, the local impact is not yet known.
Commissioners can know what to expect per sale. For liquor, the excise tax would be $28 per gallon, with a quarter of that (or $7 a gallon) coming back to the area where the store is located. For a 750 ml bottle (more than 25 ounces), the excise tax distributed locally would come to $1.39.
However, right now the county has four stores, one in each municipality.
With a licensing fee that would cost $5,000 for liquor sales, no one can know how many licenses would be distributed and how sales would compare to what is seen now.
Ashman said there are some concerns that retail sales of liquor products could lead to problems such as sales to underage customers or an increase in overall alcohol consumption.
He said the bill would allow stores to sell alcohol six days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., which is much longer than the ABC stores are open.
Ashman said he is looking for the board to pass a resolution in support of the current ABC store system that could be passed along to representatives in the General Assembly.
Commissioner Larry Johnson said he was ready to support current ABC Board system in place now.
Commissioner Eddie Harris said the current system seems to work for citizens, communities and municipalities.
“I don’t think every Tom, Dick and Harry should be selling liquor,” said Harris.
Chairman Van Tucker said he has traveled out west where everywhere stores sell Goody’s headache powders, they sell liquor; that system seems to work for them. Tucker said he is usually in favor of privatization, but he is not sure this is the best approach here. Also, he can see the downside of selling booze so late into the night.
After discussion, the board voted unanimously in favor of the resolution of support.