Law enforcement in wait-and-see stance on liquor sales

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2011

By Shelley Smith
Last week, Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten joined other North Carolina sheriffs and members of Gov. Beverly Perdue’s staff in Raleigh to discuss the pros and cons of ABC privatization.
Two dozen sheriffs or their representatives attended, and Auten said he doesn’t have a stance yet, but said he will be listening.
“I want to continue to listen and to learn just like everyone else,” he said. “I understand the need for financing, but we don’t need to just go after that golden nugget without knowing what that will cause. We don’t have a crystal ball.”
He said the governor’s staff is doing a good job of researching privatization, meeting with different groups such as law enforcement, health providers and the business community.
Auten said one scenario discussed was a three-tier licensing operation. And for every 100,000 people in a county, there can be 30 businesses that can sell liquor. For Rowan, he said, there could possibly be 42 businesses able to sell liquor. The three tiers would be “mom and pop,” to regular businesses to big box businesses, Auten said.
“They also talked about how the state expected to look at the same revenues if it would be privatized — with money coming back for mental health and law enforcement,” Auten said. “That (money) would all remain constant if it was changed over.
“By selling these licenses there’s a potential for the state to take in a large amount of money.”
Auten said the meeting was informational. But it brought up some questions, such as what constitutes a liquor store? Do they have to be free-standing or could they be just part of a big box store?
But the sheriffs had one common question: how would the privatization affect quality of life?
“Currently we have very few, if any problems, at any of those stores,” Auten said of Rowan’s current ABC stores. “I don’t know of anything major that’s happened from one of them. The local board has officers on the weekends a couple hours in the evenings and during holidays and busy times.”
Auten said he and others also worry about underage consumption.
“It would obviously be more readily available,” he said. “The control issue comes up there I would think.
“There’s something about underage folks won’t challenge going into a freestanding liquor store quite the same as going into another store where you could mix it in with groceries.
“It would be a little different, more readily available.”
People driving under the influence won’t go up, Auten said.
“People that are going to drink are going to go get it, but obviously you’re putting a more potent drink more available,” he said. “It would have that potential (to increase), but I don’t know if it would change that statistic that much.”
Auten said restrictions could also be put in place, such as liquor sales only being available within the city limits, or limitations on how many feet an outlet would have to be from a school, day-care center or church.
“The state controls that, and they could add any stipulations at any time,” he said.
Overall, he said, the meeting last week went well.
“I don’t think it’s a one-sided thing where they’re trying to ram this at anybody,” he said. “They’re trying to educate themselves to make the good decision on whether or not it’s worth doing this.
“It’s going to be a very good discussion topic and it’s going to get a lot of attention.”