This is the second in our series sharing the Friends of White Flint questionnaire responses from the candidates for County Executive. (You can read the first article focusing on top infrastructure projects for the White Flint area here.) The June 26th primary is a critical one, and we want voters to be as educated as possible about the candidates’ views on issues that matter to the White Flint/Pike District area.
We continue to vary the order of the responses and limit our comments to just the facts.
We asked the candidates, “Do you believe that alcohol sales should be privatized or continue to be managed by the county government and why? How does your decision affect the White Flint area?”
While I do not believe the county should be in the liquor business, this is the path the county has taken, and certain decisions are difficult to unwind. My main concern is with the 350 employees of the DLC and the $100 million in bonds that need to be paid off. I will explore all options to privatize alcohol sales. In the meantime, I will work with the DLC to deliver more choices to consumers and will seek continual improvements with customer and delivery services, expand the number of DLC stores in the county, and continue keeping our residents safe with DLC backed initiatives curbing drunk driving and underage drinking incidents. These improvements will help the White Flint restaurant business thrive and continue to compete with other counties.
I continue to support the County Council’s proposal for privatization of special order beer and wine sales, which would address most of the complaints from restaurateurs.
In general, I do not believe the county should be in the liquor business. However, significant changes have been made at the Department of Liquor Control in recent years, beginning with the decision to appoint someone with private side management experience as the Department’s new Director. Robert Dorfman has transformed the DLC’s inventory and distribution system and has worked to ensure that restaurants and stores can get the products they need when they need them, including special orders. Many of the County’s liquor stores have been renovated and marketing efforts encouraged. The current system also promotes small businesses in the form of beer and wine stores, rather than large big box stores such as Total Wine. The county also has a lower percentage of DUI arrests than jurisdictions that do not regulate liquor sales. Given the County’s current strained resources, and the fact that the Department generates approximately $32 million in annual profits, I would only consider privatization at this time if there was a viable plan for replacing the revenue the county would lose.
Friends of White Flint reached out to Bill Frick two times but did not receive any answers to our questionnaire.
I don’t think this affects White Flint – but keep in mind that it’s the DLC revenue that pays for Montrose West. The DLC contributes around $30 million to county revenues, equal to almost 2 cents on the tax rate, and there is no feasible plan whereby the county would be made whole by the state if we give up the revenues. The state already is served by warehouses that are essentially individual monopolies; they don’t compete on pricing (the state requires that the wholesale price of a bottle of alcohol is uniform throughout the state) and won’t buy our warehouse because they’d just need to add additional trucks to their existing facilities.
I prefer to continue fixing the DLC. We’ve brought in a director with experience from the liquor industry and a manager who actually ran liquor warehouses. The professionalization of the staff is changing the way the system runs, reducing complaints, and I believe that we can increase sales and profits so we can use the money for other unmet needs in the county.
I have long believed the County should get out of the liquor business or at least end the monopoly. We do not do “business” well. The private sector does. And it hurts our county – consumers and businesses. One third of our consumers purchase alcohol outside of Montgomery County. I also hear all too often from restaurants or bars saying that they can’t get the products they need to run their businesses successfully and that, oftentimes, items are out of stock. Restaurant owners say this makes it hard to keep, attract and grow clientele. Restaurants are an important aspect of any community’s night life and placemaking. Ending the monopoly would support consumers and our economy.
Friends of White Flint comment: While the candidates acknowledge their desire to privatize liquor sales, nearly all the candidates assert that the funds generated by liquor sales would be too difficult to replace and instead favor the current path of modernization and improvement. Roger Berliner comes out strongest for full privatization but does not address how he would replace the $30 million generated by the DLC.