Comptroller Wants Montgomery County Out Of Alcohol Business

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(Updated 2:55 p.m.) Maryland’s chief regulator of alcohol wants Montgomery County out of the alcohol distribution business.

In a meeting on Wednesday with the board of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, Comptroller Peter Franchot again called for an end to the county’s control of beer, wine and liquor distribution. He also encouraged business leaders in the room to get together to make it happen.

“It’s long overdue for Montgomery County to get out of the beer, wine and spirits business,” Franchot said in a prepared statement released later Wednesday. “It’s an outdated, inconvenient and inefficient system of public alcohol control that severely inhibits consumer choice and causes unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for small businesses.”

In the meeting, Franchot called the effort to privatize alcohol sales “totally winnable,” but “totally unwinnable if you just go to your elected officials,” according to Bethesda Magazine.

The county’s Department of Liquor Control distributes all alcohol to restaurants and beer and wine stores in the county from a central warehouse. The government-controlled system was projected to make $20.7 million for the county’s budget this fiscal year. That profit has been a major reason why the control model has stuck around.

Now, a number of people are arguing the system has no place in the county at all and hampers restaurant owners’ ability to get special orders and timely deliveries.

DLC officials have said the system has proven plenty flexible in the past and that the Department is constantly looking to improve its selection and distribution processes.

Heather Dlhopolsky, a Bethesda attorney and chair-elect of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber Board, headed up the county’s recent Nighttime Economy Task Force. The issue of alcohol privatization came up a few times in the Task Force’s six months of work, though Dlhopolsky said the group decided early on that it didn’t really have the time to address the major issue.

“Frankly, we decided that you could have a whole task force unto itself just on the privatization issue,” Dlhopolsky said.

She was in the room on Wednesday when Franchot offered to have his office conduct a study on the economic impact of privatizing alcohol sales. He also asked business leaders to pay for their own economic impact study.

Franchot cited a “cumbersome ordering system that often causes delays in receiving supplies to adequately keep a restaurant in stock, especially when there is an unexpected surge in sales.”

The Task Force did call for a study of the DLC’s effectiveness from the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight.

“I think it’s going to be hard. What you hear is individuals support it. I think what you have though is a county coming out of the recession and you’ve got a revenue stream that you’re saying is going to be eliminated,” Dlhopolsky said. “These economic studies, maybe in the long run, can prove it can be beneficial. But it’s going to take a while to demonstrate that from a financial perspective, it’s going to end up better off than the short-term pain.”

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