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‘Spirits’ generate cash

WINDSOR – Members of the Bertie County Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board met with the County Commissioners at their May meeting here, not just to present a check for the county’s General Fund, but also to tout the ABC Board’s accomplishments in 2017.

After the introduction of James Pugh of Lewiston as the newest member of the ABC Board, member Michael Freeman said the most important letter in ABC is C, for ‘Control’

“This year, driving under the influence of drugs has outpaced driving under the influence of alcohol for the first time that I can remember,” Freeman said. “That’s mainly because of that ‘C’ in Control.”

Freeman also cited HB 736, currently under consideration in the General Assembly which increases the penalty/punishment for alcohol-related offenses committed by underage minors.

“It would also make it a Class-C felony for the person who sold the alcohol; so everybody in our store knows they’re not only going to get arrested, they’re also out of a job,” Freeman added.

Board Chairman Miles Davis followed and presented some figures of contributions ABC stores have made to the state’s coffers.

“In 2016, the state’s General Fund received $287,665,080 from the ABC system,” Davis noted. “$11,666,835 went to alcohol education, $7,897,315 went to law enforcement, and $4,565,914 went to health and human services.  All this money is not tax money, its profits made from the ABC system; money that benefits everybody: those who drink, and those who do not.”

Davis also said the contribution to the county’s General Fund is helping keep county taxes low.

“In Bertie County the ABC system gave $164,993 to the county in excise taxes, $52,386 in sales taxes, and $2,929 in rehabilitation; again, money that benefits everybody,” Davis said.

The bulletproof glass at the new Bertie County Sheriff’s Offices on County Farm Road was donated by the county’s ABC system at a saving to the county of tens of thousands of dollars.

Davis said the alcohol education program in Bertie County Schools has been suspended due to administration changes, but he hopes the program can re-start in 2018.  He also said in 2018, Law Enforcement Education would be available through the Martin Community College Bertie campus.

“This is so bars and restaurants can know the proper procedure for serving alcoholic beverages,” Davis noted. “This will be free to all our citizens wishing to participate.”

Davis, who is also a member of the state ABC Board , says the state system has joined with the Christian Coalition in opposing SB155 in the legislature.  This bill calls for early Sunday sales of alcohol, and would allow for the sale of liquor, like beer and wine, through general stores.

“We also took a stand against privatization,” he said. “We don’t want the gas stations, Food Lion or Walgreens selling distilled spirits because their clerks are not trained to patrol the alcohol sales like our people do, and the system would be abused.”

Davis said Washington State went from beverage-control to privatization and when the number of liquor stores increased from 500 to over 2000 the state lost $100,000,000 in revenue.

“We have the best ABC system in the nation,” David insisted. “It provides a service, keeps control on a product, and keeps taxes low. We’re fourth in income from alcohol sales, but 43rd in liquor consumption, and that speaks highly of our state.”

Davis closed his remarks by praising the County Commissioners and thanking them for appointing what he called ‘the best ABC Board in the state’.

“I have been told Bertie County has one of the most active ABC Boards in the state,” he said. “I always say it is because our County Commissioners have confidence in us and they set an example of activism.”

Davis and the entire ABC Board then presented the county with a check for $10,000.

After the presentation, Commissioner Ron Wesson asked about expansion.  Currently, Bertie County’s lone ABC store is located in Windsor.

“It’s a good location and we get a lot of traffic, and that’s good,” Wesson stated. “But is there a need to look into expansion to additional locations around the county that may not have availability.”

Wesson said his concern was about potential lost revenue to surrounding counties with more ABC store locations; noting that the site of the former ABC store in Lewiston is now a church.

“We have discussed recently renting a location in the Lewiston-Woodville area,” Davis revealed. “We feel there’s more of a need there than say, Midway-Merry Hill, because there hasn’t been the expansion (in that region) we anticipated. What you have to realize is that even though we’re under the umbrella of government, we’re also a business and our employees are paid based on the profits we make.  They’re not government employees, they’re retail employees like someone who works at Food Lion.”

Davis says there is a potential for loss with expansion because prices are set by the state, and additionally there is a bottle tax and license tax to be paid.

“A pint of Crown Royal in Bertie County costs the same thing in Murphy or Nags Head,” he noted. “It’s a very tight profit margin.”

Davis says the ABC Board has discussed renting a location for about one year as an experiment.  Commission Chairman John Trent also pointed out that some customers in western Bertie County are closer to Rich Square in Northampton County than the Windsor locale.

Pugh asserted that Davis’ three-year term on the state Board may be ending, but that he hoped everything that could be done to keep Davis’ appointment would be undertaken.