Oversight Report Could Provide Impetus For Liquor Department Reforms

Montgomery CountyAn independent examination of Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control could lead to changes in how Montgomery sells alcohol to restaurants and retailers.

The Office of Legislative Oversight, the Council office that does studies and reports on various county agencies, will likely have a review of DLC on its work program for this fiscal year. The Council is expected to approve the report and 14 other OLO projects on July 29.

The DLC’s control of alcohol distribution has been under scrutiny over the past year as Montgomery County searches for ways to attract millennials by boosting restaurants and bars part of the nighttime economy. Much of the discussion in a county-organized task force on the topic last year revolved around reforms to alcohol laws.

Restaurant owners have complained that the county’s role as alcohol distributor restricts the variety of wine, beer and liquor businesses can acquire. Some have also complained about less frequent delivery times. The DLC operates a central facility from which it delivers orders to restaurants, bars and beer and wine retailers.

“I hear from a lot of people that our way of handling liquor is a barrier to having a thriving restaurant sector, which is a barrier to retaining our empty nesters and attracting younger workers to our community,” Councilmember Hans Riemer said Tuesday.

The OLO report would look at DLC’s process for selecting certain brands, customer feedback, how beverage licensing relates to the nighttime economy and potential options to increase efficiency and improve service.

“I came into the Council with a similar view, wondering what can we do about this, hearing the same kinds of concerns,” Councilmember Roger Berliner said.

Berliner said he sent DLC a memo a month ago asking it to look into a model in Pennsylvania in which there are self-contained liquor stores within a high-end grocery store.

Councilmember Marc Elrich said the DLC seemed interested in making reforms before the recession hit.

“Then they got constrained by a combination of what happened to our budgets and also with the big move they made to the different warehouse,” Elrich said. “I think we’re going to find that the director there has a vision for what can be different. I’m very encouraged by that.”

Both Berliner and Elrich mentioned how important the revenue component was. The DLC’s average annual revenue in selling alcohol covers its operating costs and is typically good for a more than $20 million contribution to the county’s General Fund, according to OLO.

“We get to do a lot of things with the money that’s generated from there,” Elrich said. “That’s an important piece of this.”

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