BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Two Brunswick County beach towns want the state’s alcohol sales system to stay the same, opposing to new legislation that could change the state’s monopoly on liquor sales.
Nearly every year, some form of legislation gets introduced that would update the state’s alcohol-control system. So far, not much has changed. But this year, fueled by a new report out of the General Assembly calling for an end to government-controlled alcohol distribution sales, new legislation appears to threaten at least two local Brunswick County boards.
Last month, the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee out of the General Assembly released its first report in 11 years, calling for a complete overhaul of the government-controlled alcohol distribution system. The last report, released in 2008, describes the state’s system as “outdated” and in need of modernization.
The most recent report came with seven recommendations. In turn, legislators filed identical bills adopting the recommendations in each chamber one week after the report’s release; House Bill 91 and Senate Bill 87. So far, 18 legislators sponsor the bi-partisan backed House Bill 91.
One recommendation, including allowing alcohol sales on Sunday, isn’t getting local push-back. But two recommendations, including mandated ABC board mergers and the potential for privatized liquor sales, aren’t sitting well with the City of Southport or the Town of Oak Island. The bill itself does not appear to call for privatization.
Two nearly-identical resolutions, opposing the new legislation and supporting the current system, recently appeared before Southport’s Board of Aldermen and Oak Island’s Council. Southport’s board unanimously approved its resolution in a special meeting Feb. 26, and Oak Island will vote on its resolution at Tuesday’s special meeting.
What’s at stake?
Brunswick County has the highest number of ABC boards compared to North Carolina’s 99 other counties. At nine total boards, including eight municipal ABC boards and one county board, the boards provide municipalities with consistent — and growing — profits. (In recent years, the county’s fastest-growing town, Leland, tried to add on yet another ABC board, but that hasn’t panned out.)
Oak Island and Southport’s ABC boards bring in about the same amount of profits and cost less than a half-million dollars to operate. In 2018, Oak Island brought in $352,706 in profits before distribution — an 11-percent profit margin — after $3.2 million in gross sales, according to the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Sales were up nearly eight percent up from fiscal year 2017, and is projected to increase over eight percent next fiscal year.
It’s a similar outlook for Southport, whose sales increased by nearly nine percent in 2018, although projected increases are just three percent for 2019. The city made a nearly 11-percent profit, at $350,457 before distribution, after $3.2 million in sales.
Argument against privatization
Though the new report doesn’t explicitly call for privatization, it does feature a pretty clear roadmap. Southport and Oak Island’s resolutions claim government-controlled wholesale and retail liquor sales are a public health and safety benefit.
Privatization leads to a loss in government profits, according to the resolution. For example, in 2001, privatization in Washington State ballooned retail outlets from 328 to 1,400.
The resolutions state North Carolina ranks 44th in alcohol consumption per capita in the U.S. The resolution claim that privatization would increase consumption, implicitly framed as a public health and safety concern.
Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at firstname.lastname@example.org