This week we have embarked on a project to share with you the answers to the questionnaire we gave to the at-large council seat candidates. The June 26th primary is a critical one for Montgomery County, and there are four at-large County Council seats up for grabs. There are more than three dozen candidates vying for your vote. We hope their responses help you to be a more educated voter.
Today we share the responses to our question, “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?” (Please note that we’ll change the random order of the responses for each question.)
The county should terminate its monopoly on alcohol sales and allow private distribution and sales. This step will create business opportunity in the White Flint area and lower costs and expand options for restaurants in the area. I would not privatize Montgomery County’s own alcohol sales. The DLC would have to compete with private vendors.
Residents, restaurants and businesses have advocated vigorously for new options, despite improvements made by new management. To respond to this strongly felt community feedback, the County should begin exploring a transition. Several years ago, the Bureau of Revenue Estimates said that we could have an additional $193.7 million in economic activity for the county if privatization were fully implemented. But first state laws would need to change regarding licensure. There are many ways to slice this apple, but we would need to do a gradual phase out to move forward, starting with spirits, for example, with wholesalers competing for licenses. We would need to ensure current employees had priority at positions — which they would be likely be most qualified for due to experience. We could also continue to lease current facilities for the warehouses. The county could set the prices for new licenses and exploring piggy backing off the state alcohol taxes with a phased-out tax collected in Montgomery County by CBDs; however, increased sales could make up for the loss of revenue resulting from exiting the business ourselves. White Flint would benefit through stronger restaurant and nightlife-related businesses, helping to bring energy to the area.
The County has made numerous changes to the DLC, from hiring a new director and top tier management from private industry to modernizing its warehouse, instituting new pricing and distribution, and adopting best practices from private industry. I believe the new management should be given an opportunity to improve performance before any attempt is made to privatize a taxpayer asset that spins off approximately $30 million in profit that funds schools, libraries and other County services.
In my opinion, is not whether or not the DLC should be privatized; instead, it is how can we make the DLC run better, and how can we create an economic ecosystem that benefits both our county employees, our business owners, and our residents. If elected, I would work in collaboration with the DLC and our local restaurant owners to figure out how we can continue improving customer service, warehouse operations and timely delivery of products. I also believe we should provide more choice in the local alcohol market and provide our restaurants with the ability to compete against markets like D.C. and Arlington. One solution could be to revisit the 2015 council-supported bill that would have allowed private distributors to sell certain “speciality” products such as craft beer and fine wine that the DLC does not regularly stock. This could offer a feasible compromise that protects our jobs while strengthening our local economy.
If the county was discussing getting into the liquor business today, we probably should have not. HOWEVER, we are in it, THEREFORE, the issue is: Montgomery County nets 30 million dollars which covers the 100 million dollars in bond issue debt interest payments which allows the rating company to allow Montgomery County to keep its AAA bond rating.
Regarding the local bars and restaurants, Montgomery County has heard the problems with our small businesses with the County controlling the liquor and MC should fix the problem and properly served its customers! MC cannot just get rid of the net income without getting rid of the $100 million dollars in bonds.
Liquor control is a responsibility of local and state government, as determined by the 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealing Prohibition. I have not yet seen a “privatization” plan which would meet my standards of a) protecting the jobs of the current county workers employed by the DLC, or b) replacing the loss of revenue in the county budget. The issues related to service, quality of stock, cleanliness of stores, responsiveness to licensed businesses that sell alcohol, that are used as reasons to call for privatization, I believe can be addressed to make the DLC a better service while retaining the actual function — controlling the sale of beverage alcohol for the benefit of public health.
I do not believe County government should be in the liquor business, however, we have come to rely on this revenue and will need time to wean ourselves off of it. It’s not just the $30M annual revenue but the ~$100M in bonds that this dedicated funding stream guarantees. Incorporating that $100M in bonds into general obligation bonds would represent nearly a third of our bonding capacity under our spending affordability guidelines. The way forward with the Department of Liquor Control will be by working with our microbreweries, established brewery-themed pubs, and restaurants to address product choice, availability, timeliness, and reliability with better customer service. Create competition with the County as one wholesale option. Work with distributors so that companies like Dogfish Head won’t have to buy their own brews back from themselves. Encourage growth of microbreweries in the manner that makes sense for them. For White Flint this will be more wine choices for Seasons 52, greater craft beer availability for Owen’s Ordinary, and greater variety for specialty cocktails at Pinstripes.
I absolutely believe we should privatize sales and end the County liquor monopoly. This is critical to the success of White Flint, because the archaic DLC monopoly is adding higher costs to the already-narrow profit margins of restaurant and bar owners there. It’s also surprising to young professionals, who we want to live in the Pike District, that they cannot buy Bud Light or a nice bottle of wine at all chain grocery, drug and convenience stores. My opponents support keeping the government monopoly – remember that on Election Day!
I used to think “why does the county have this antiquated system where they control alcohol sales”. But after beginning to campaign and run for office and reading more about it, I see that it makes the county $30 million a year, and we have 240 employees that work for the DLC. The system does seem to work for the county, so I would keep it managed by the county. Don’t know how that affects the White Flint area specifically.
I strongly believe that alcohol sales should be privatized. There is no reason for Montgomery County to be in the business of selling alcohol. The decision to privatize alcohol sales would encourage more restaurants to open in the county in general, and certainly in the White Flint area, thereby helping create a sense of place in the Pike District/White Flint area. Consumers and private sector businesses have been faced with a lack of choice and reliance on an antiquated and inefficient distribution system for too long. Privatizing our liquor monopoly will allow Montgomery County businesses to level the playing field with competitors in other jurisdictions who have the benefit of choice in alcohol purchasing.
At this time, I do not support efforts to privatize the Montgomery County Retail and Wholesale Division of the Department of Liquor Control (DLC). I believe the reforms made by the County Executive Ike Leggett, which included the management change at the DLC, are sufficient for the DLC to continue as a public entity. At this time, with looming budget deficits, our County cannot afford to lose the $30 million in revenue that the DLC brings to County reserves. However, we should revisit the issue of privatizing the DLC during better economic times in the County.
I am familiar with the inside of the alcohol business, and despite what some people think, it is not a business that easily runs itself without numerous (but independent demands, issues and problems). The Montgomery County DLS has been a disaster for decades more for its management than for the program itself. For the past 15 months, a new director with great business experience has been transforming the DLC to make it more efficient for retail stores, restaurants and customers. Problems are declining. I want to see how this real management continues to impact the program under his leadership. And in the end, the program produces more than $30 million in revenue for the County. Not one person who wants the program abolished has produced a credible plan to replace that revenue. The alternative would be to raise property taxes to make up for that large whole, and this county is not ready to do that.
The County should not be in the alcohol business regardless of the revenue produced. Using the revenue as an argument would lead to the recommendation of a County monopoly on the sale of any commodity (gas, cigarettes, medical marijuana, cough syrup). It just doesn’t make sense. The privatization discussion began because the DLC was in a serious state of disrepair with ancient inventory and distribution systems, as well as terrible customer service. While there has been significant improvement with the new Director, the rationale for the monopoly is still flawed. The biggest negative impact on the County’s control on the sale of alcohol has been the poor customer service received by restaurants. I have heard countless stories of lost or damaged product, late shipments, or not having standard products in stock. The direct impact of privatization on White Flint would be better service to restaurants, resulting in better experiences for the ultimate consumers.
We need to do a better job supporting our restaurants and expanding after-work entertainment options in White Flint. In 2014 I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post called for an end to the county’s liquor monopoly. My remedy was to allow restaurateurs the direct sale of wine, beer and spirits. Here is the op-ed: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/breaking-montgomery-countys-monopolyon-booze/2016/01/18/515ead94-bbde-11e5-99f3-184bc379b12d_story.html
Of the $30 million in revenue that the monopoly provides the county budget, my policy will only reduce that figure by $2-3 million. I am confident that this gesture will increase economic activity within the restaurant and hospitality industry, thereby recovering the minor budgetary costs.
If we want to encourage more nightlife in the White Flint area, we to provide assistance to our small businesses.
Until we can find a way to replace the $30,000,000 in annual revenues we in Montgomery County gain by the current system, we should stick with it. What often gets lost in the argument is that this $30,000,000 leverages more than $100,000,000 in bonds. Should we move to another system, this must be taken into account. There is no denying we have an unusual system in place. That said, changes have been made in the last year and a half that have made the existing system work better. A new leader from private industry is now at the helm of the Department of Liquor Control and, by all accounts, is doing a superb job of addressing long standing concerns and complaints about service, variety, and delivery. According to the DataMontgomery website, 98% of items are shipped on time and intact. This is fairly remarkable considering you are dealing with products that are mostly in glass containers that have travelled along pothole infested roads…another topic I am eager to take on. Maintaining the status quo will affect the White Flint area by not turning it into a cash and carry paradise where liquor stores dot the landscape, loiterers abound, and crime can follow. Montgomery County has a relatively low rate of DUI arrests. The reason often cited is the way liquor is distributed. I think we owe it to ourselves to see if we can have the new leader of the DLC get us where we need to be in terms of addressing the concerns of our businesses and residents.
I believe alcohol sales should be privatized. The govt. shouldn’t have a monopoly—competition is good and healthy for all.
If we were starting over I would not support creation of an alcohol distribution monopoly by the County. However, we have to take the world as we find it, and I do not support privatization of the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) for the following reasons:
The DLC provides $30 million in net revenue to the County each year with the likelihood of substantial increases as it becomes better managed. At a time when the County’s needs far outstrip its revenues, retaining DLC revenues is important.
The DLC provide 350 good union jobs that I do not want to see lost.
Getting rid of the DLC monopoly would presumably allow sales by store chains which would put small mom and pop stores that depend upon beer and wine sales out of business.
The historic complaints about the DLC have not related to price but rather to product selection, reliability of service to licensees (e.g. restaurants), and customer experience in County retail stores. The DLC’s performance in these areas has improved dramatically because for the first time it is being run as a business rather than a government bureaucracy.
I do not believe that my position on the DLC affects White Flint more than other areas of the County
White Flint needs successful restaurants. If the DLC is a barrier to restaurants then we must reform or privatize it. I took the lead at the Council on DLC reform. After my committee’s pressure all senior managers of the DLC were replaced with managers who have industry expertise. Today I am not hearing complaints from restaurants but I will continue to monitor. I proposed partial privatization of the DLC in the state legislature but my plan was defeated by a few advocates pushing loudly for total privatization (“End the Monopoly”) and a few advocates of the status quo. However, reforms that I have successfully proposed, including relaxing food/alcohol ratios, extending hours, allowing breweries to be their own distributor, and economic development incentives, zoning, and the like, have resulted directly in the flowering of a marvelous local brewery scene.
Next for me: Montgomery County can and should be home to a strong local winery industry. Additionally, we need beer and wine in the grocery store, which requires state law to change. That restriction is not from the DLC, it comes from small private retailers that want to protect themselves from competition.