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February 9, 2012

Questioning the Liquor Board Request to Raise Fees

Joan Marie Aquilino

After reading a recent article titled, “Frederick police chief wants second liquor inspector” by Katherine Heerbrandt in The Gazette, it just made me wonder if we’ll ever get the full story from the Frederick Liquor Board.


Last year the Liquor Board asked for raises in the liquor fees. They left most – if not all – wondering how they came up with their figures. The rhyme, and certainly the reason, was missing in their request as it is again this year.


Okay, maybe it’s needed; but they ask for blanket permission to raise the fees but never offer justification as to why it’s needed other than we just need it. The county covers their budget deficit.


What deficit and why? Where is the fiscal note on the legislation; where is the cost analysis? Just because they haven’t had a raise in fees for years doesn’t justify raising them now.


I would like to know how much they bring in and how is it used. Ms. Heerbrandt mentions in her article that the City of Frederick received a percentage of last year’s fees totaling $81,000. This was the amount given to the city for businesses located in the city alone.


Why do they receive these dollars and what is the justification for them receiving them when they are now asking to have another liquor inspector hired for the city alone.


Every municipality receives a percentage of the liquor fees. Why? And if they are receiving those fees, why isn’t it used by their own officers to police the bars, alleys and streets? If a law is broken, do the police not have the right/obligation to handle it? Why is the liquor inspector the only one who can deal with issues of overdrinking or serving underage patrons? What goes on in the city’s alley or streets is not something the liquor inspector handles; that is police territory.


My argument is not that there isn’t a need for another – maybe even a couple – more inspectors; but when the inspector now doing the job is only making $58,000 per year, according to Ms. Heerbrandt’s article, what is the problem and why isn’t money available to hire more?


The money given back to the city alone far exceeds the cost to hire another inspector, but I don’t see the city offering up anything yet? Why should municipalities across the county – and the county itself – be forced to give up part of their share to fund a city-only inspector? Our liquor inspector, from my observations, does an excellent job and always has. He is dedicated to the job he performs and most likely could use help.


Here are some questions I have after having dealt with the Liquor Board. Why is a liquor license the same price for a 50-seat establishment as it is for a 500-seat one? The applicant does all the leg work and turns in all the forms, applications, etc. What does the Liquor Board do from that point other than schedule a hearing and approve or disapprove the application?


Maybe, if there weren’t so many antiquated regulations and rules on the books that don’t deal with the consumption of alcohol, the process wouldn’t be so time consuming as the board claims.


Why does the Liquor Board have to both know and approve the menu items? Why does it matter if the applicant can seat 10 or 1,000 people; and why do they have to have a minimum of 50 chairs at tables to qualify? Bar stools and counter high-top tables and chairs don’t count, especially when that threshold of 50 is in direct conflict with the Fire Marshall’s number of allowed patrons at any one time. One extra person can cost a business owner thousands of dollars putting in extra doors, hallways, bathrooms, etc., to accommodate nothing more than the Liquor Board’s arbitrary whim.


Why can’t you remove your chairs if you want to have a dance party (keep them moving they drink less or sweat it out), have a show or even just to have more open space for whatever they deem suitable within the law for their establishment? If I want a liquor license and can only seat 20 people, or only want a 20-person limit, what does it matter to them if I’m willing to pay the license fee?


Why does it matter to them if I want to serve finger food or appetizers, if I’m serving food? Yes, of course, have food to fill the tummy so the alcohol isn’t all that is consumed, but the rest should be up to the owners. If I serve lunch and dinner, I don’t have to serve another thing from dinner hour on. Now that makes a lot of sense when we know the issue the police have are well after those hours.


What does it matter to the Liquor Board if I want to open from noon to 5 P.M., or 5 to 2 A.M., if I’m following the rules otherwise? Why do they dictate two meals must be served and the time frame in which those meals are to be served? What if you want to capture a specific clientele and only open for the dinner or lunch crowd or even, better yet, what if you want to open from 7 P.M. until 2 A.M. and serve late night food? Pray tell, what is the issue?


Why do I have to have permission from the Liquor Board before I can close my restaurant? Why am I fined when a drunk gets angry because they want “last call” drink, and I’ve closed because there are no other customers? Isn’t that a contradiction? Bartenders have to make judgment calls on how much a person has had to drink, but they can’t close the doors early to avoid the last call drunk thus making the road a bit safer? Where is the rationale in all this?


If the Liquor Board would stick to liquor only and focus on that instead of all the other nonsense of hours open or closed, food preparation, number of seats, how those seats are arranged, etc., their cost most likely would go down. Charge more for those who do more, charge less for smaller places and do the job of controlling liquor, not business plans. Stop giving the municipalities money for no good reason.


To my limited knowledge, the Frederick County Delegation to the General Assembly has yet to see proof positive of a need for liquor fees to go up. I hope that until they do, this gets put where it belongs – in the trash.


. . . . .'til next time . . .


As always, I’d love to hear from you; so, let me know what’s on your mind by emailing, or contacting me directly


“Just Joan” saying be safe and “don’t believe everything you think.”


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