Wednesday, May 14, 2008

County executive uninterested in Sunday liquor sales

Leggett doesn’t see financial benefit, even though Floreen foresees $1 million boost

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Plans for Sunday liquor sales are not on the drawing board, despite the County Council’s recommendation last week that the Department of Liquor Control pursue a pilot program.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) ‘‘doesn’t see a great financial benefit in doing Sunday sales” and has no plans to go forward with even an experiment, spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield said.

‘‘He’s fine with looking to see if there’s more information we should have,” Lacefield added.

Leggett considered Sunday liquor sales, Lacefield said, but chose not to propose it in the budget he presented to the council in March.

Also last week, the council recommended a review of accidents and revenue in jurisdictions that allow Sunday liquor sales, as well as a plan for how money from sales would be spent to curb or treat addiction.

Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen urged the county to consider Sunday sales, in part to help cover a $297 million budget gap. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park said estimates suggest opening liquor stores on Sunday could bring as much as $1 million more revenue to the county, which, through its Department of Liquor Control, holds a monopoly on retail and wholesale liquor sales.

Several states and counties have lifted Sunday alcohol sales bans as they struggle to pay for services and salaries in a sagging economy.

But DLC Director George Griffin has said the $1 million estimate Floreen offered may be high because some Sunday liquor purchases might otherwise have been made on another day of the week.

Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda said the social cost of seven-day-a-week sales could be too high.

Trachtenberg pointed to a 10-year study of alcohol-related crashes and fatalities following New Mexico’s 1995 decision to allow Sunday alcohol sales. The study found a 29 percent increase in alcohol-related crashes on Sundays and a 42 percent increase in fatalities from alcohol-related crashes on Sundays after Sunday sales began, according to an article published in the American Journal of Public Health in November 2006.

But Councilman Philip M. Andrews, who heads the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he sees little threat and more ‘‘consumer convenience” in Sunday liquor sales.

‘‘I think it’s reasonable to try it out,” said Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg.

Griffin said Floreen’s suggestion marks the first time he remembers an elected official proposing it, although the department has had internal discussions about the possibility.

Floreen has said she believes opening county liquor stores on Sunday would have little effect on beer and wine sales at privately owned stores because county stores do not sell cold beer.