With Gov. Beverly Perdue reversing her stance on her previous suggestion to privatize liquor sales, towns can rest assured they’ll probably not soon see this important revenue stream go dry.

In Waynesville, beneficiary of about $170,000 in annual profits from its ABC store, Perdue’s announcement might give the local ABC board the reassurance it needs to decide how to best handle cramped quarters. Should Waynesville build a new store as previously considered near the big, new Super Wal-Mart; or, should Waynesville simply expand its existing ABC store? said Town Manager Lee Galloway.

The state’s ABC commission in March approved Waynesville’s request to build a second store. Indecision over whether the state might privatize liquor sales put the plan into limbo, however.

Though, truthfully, Galloway wasn’t all that worried about this looming financial threat to the town’s coffers. He said he believes if the proposal moves forward, which seems highly doubtful now without Perdue’s backing, the state would find another method of reimbursing towns for the docked dollars.

Perdue made her I’m-now-against-privatization announcement last week at a meeting of county commissioners attending a legislative goals session in Durham. In the audience was Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale, whose primary concern centered on consumption, not revenue. In this, the local Democrat had an ally in the Christian Action League of North Carolina, which bills itself as having the largest networks of members, volunteers and churches of any Christian public-policy group in the state.

The Christian Action League opposed privatization on the grounds people might drink more if access wasn’t state controlled. Walter Harris, president of the Association of ABC Boards, flatly stated he, too, believed privatization would result in increased imbibing.

“I think it is a wise decision not to put liquor at every stop,” Beale said, adding that North Carolina’s less-than-happy experience with privatizing mental-health care raises serious questions about such initiatives.

Billed as “reform,” many critics — including Beale — have said the new mental-health care system in North Carolina fails to provide the state’s most vulnerable residents with basic, much less adequate, care.

Some highly placed Republicans in the now GOP-controlled legislature had expressed their concerns, too, about letting private business owners sell liquor out of grocery stores or other retail stops. North Carolina currently controls every aspect of the more than $5 billion business, but the governor was eyeing privatization as a means of generating dollars to help with the state’s $3.7 billion shortfall.

Adding fuel to the idea of letting vendors handle liquor sales were a number of lurid headline-generating stories about high times by, and high salaries of, some ABC board members downstate.

Such issues, Beale said, can best be handled through other means than simply handing off sales to private business owners.

Franklin Mayor Joe Collins said he believes the current system works, and that by confining liquor sales to (in Franklin’s case) a single store, “certain challenges” surrounding alcoholic beverage sales are more easily controlled. The mayor added he was pleased that, after study, the governor was willing to squelch her own idea.

Canton Town Manager Al Matthews said he isn’t so sure the matter is closed, however, and said the issue merits continued monitoring. Canton, particularly, might have been in a bit of a pickle if privatization had occurred — it has a relatively new ABC store, and sales revenue is being used to offset the building costs.

“Somebody was going to be stuck with a debt,” Matthews said.

 

2010 gross sales at area ABC stores

Canton    $964,474

Maggie Valley    $1,588,210

Waynesville    $2,107,992

Sylva    $2,610,265*

Franklin    $2,434,888

Highlands    $1,567,570

Bryson City    $1,751,508*

SOURCE: North Carolina ABC Commission

* Bryson City and Sylva sales include alcohol purchased by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino

Business owners hoping to be annexed by Waynesville in order to serve alcohol be out of luck.

At a meeting of the Waynesville board of aldermen on April 14, town leaders failed to approve an annexation request by Grandview Lodge Owner Terry Ferguson. Ferguson maintains that he wants his lodge to be annexed in order to gain access to town services like water and trash pickup. He also said becoming part of the town would save money on his insurance rates in a tough economic time.

“What we are trying to do is trim our expenses as a small business,” Ferguson said. “Times are tough right now, and businesses are trying to cut in every way they can.”

But another perk that Ferguson would gain — namely the ability to serve liquor, wine and beer to patrons of his restaurant — quickly became the focus of the debate.

Haywood County is dry, so businesses outside town limits can’t serve alcohol. Though Ferguson said being able to serve alcohol wasn’t his main goal, he filed an application to obtain an ABC permit from the town of Waynesville, according to Waynesville Police Department Lt. Chuck Way. Way said Ferguson’s request was denied because he wasn’t in the town limits.

When Ferguson came before the town petitioning for annexation, neighbors of the Lodge came with their own petition in hand — one opposing the request, namely because it would allow for liquor by the drink.

“We’ve had a very quiet neighborhood for many years now, and I just have a little petition we passed around worried about liquor by the drink,” said Scott Muse, a Grandview area resident.

The petition cited liquor as the primary reason for opposition, saying that isn’t conducive to the family neighborhood that surrounds the lodge, “where children roam and play.” It didn’t mention beer or wine.

Another neighbor stepped up to say he was concerned that the availability of liquor could change the character of the community.

“We have a very quiet, peaceful neighborhood,” said Sam Cable. “I feel that should alcoholic beverages be permitted, this would open the door for our community to not be as quiet as it is.”

Ferguson continued to maintain that alcohol wasn’t the primary reason for his annexation request.

“This is not an issue of liquor by the drink at all, and it should not be presented that way,” he said after the meeting.

But Mayor Gavin Brown stated that whether or not Ferguson presented it that way, “the issues now mix.”

Alderman Leroy Roberson agreed.

“It seems like it’s coming down to liquor by the drink, though I think (Ferguson) made a solid point about the services Waynesville can provide,” Roberson said.

Brown argued that citizens outside of the Waynesville town limits did not get an opportunity to vote on whether they supported having liquor by the drink and it wasn’t the town’s place to force it upon them. Waynesville residents passed a referendum allowing the sale of mixed beverages on May 6, 2008.

“Those folks don’t want liquor by the drink in their community, and I’m not going to impose it upon them,” Brown said.

Brown was an open supporter of the liquor by the drink referendum. In fact, it was one of his campaign platforms when running for mayor two years ago. Shortly after his election he proceed with the ballot measure as an issue of free choice. The desires of Waynesville voters should not be imposed on those outside town, he said.

“It was never my intention to impose my views on that section of the community,” Brown said.

The board seemed concerned about setting a precedent if they granted Ferguson and his lodge the annexation.

“There are a thousand parcels of land that have businesses on them that are outside the city limits that would want to be annexed so they can sell liquor by the drink,” said Brown.

Alderman Wells Greely cautioned that more thought needs to be given to how the two issues — annexation and liquor by the drink — connect with one another.

“What about other places that might choose to be annexed?” Greely questioned. “With liquor by the drink being so new, I think we need to take baby steps as we go through and think about liquor by the drink and how it affects this community.”

Alderman Gary Caldwell said he wouldn’t support the annexation.

“I don’t feel good about it at the present time,” Caldwell said. “It would be unfair, and it would be hard for me to vote on it.”

In general, aldermen agreed that they weren’t opposed to the idea of having liquor. Alderman Libba Feichter pointed out that having a liquor license allows for more control on the part of the proprietor over how much patrons consume. Currently, Grandview Lodge and other places offer brown-bagging, which allows customers to bring in their own bottle and generally consume as much as they want.

In the end, however, aldermen failed to make a motion to grant Ferguson’s annexation request.

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