April 27, 2010

Are Sunday booze sales coming to Montgomery County?

Montgomery County residents looking to get their hands on the hard stuff no longer would have to head for the county line on Sundays under a proposal from one County Councilmember. Councilman Mike Knapp, D-Germantown, said the county can make an additional $1.5 million to $2 million a year by opening its liquor stores on Sundays. That is extra money the cash-strapped county, which has a budget hole of nearly $1 billion, can't afford to overlook, Knapp said.

"That's not taxing anybody ... it's just providing access to a product people already want to purchase on Sundays as opposed to not having it available on Sundays," Knapp said. "That seems to be pretty much a no-brainer."

Proponents said the money raised may be small compared with the county's budget hole, but it's an easy way to raise revenue that shouldn't be overlooked -- especially in light of County Executive Ike Leggett's proposal to double the county's energy tax to raise $100 million.

"Every little bit helps," said Council President Nancy Floreen, D-At Large. Alcohol sales are tightly controlled in the county. Spirits such as tequila, whiskey and vodka can be bought only at county-owned liquor stores. The county also acts as a wholesaler and distributor to restaurants and private stores that sell beer and wine. The Department of Liquor Control has made more than $200 million for the county in the last 10 years. Leggett said he's open to the idea of opening liquor stores on Sundays, but showed little enthusiasm for a similar proposal two years ago. The problem, said Leggett's spokesman Patrick Lacefield, is that it's not clear whether the "juice is worth the squeeze."

Lacefield said the profits could turn out to be lower than $1 million a year through Sunday sales because customers may be accustomed to buying spirits on other days of the week. And the increased competition might hurt privately owned beer and wine stores and restaurants, Lacefield said. The Rev. Wade Martin, senior pastor at Montgomery United Methodist Church, said Sundays are meant to be days focused on one's faith and families, not for drinking.

"Alcohol can take us away from the intent of what Sundays are all about," Wade said. Wade's church is in Damascus, a dry jurisdiction in Montgomery County where the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited -- a prohibition that has survived numerous referendums. SOURCE: Washington Examiner

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