Statesville leaders vote against privatizing ABC

Casting what they acknowledged was a pre-emptive strike, Statesville's elected officials voted recently to oppose privatizing the city's ABC board - a move they say may come from the legislature this year.

On Dec. 2, the council unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming its opposition.

"Given the atmosphere in the state capital, coupled with previous studies on the issue, we are concerned that there may be momentum next year in Raleigh for privatization of the ABC boards, and we just don't feel that would be good for our city," said City Manager Rob Hites.

Controversy over the past year concerning ABC boards has been focused largely on an expensive dinner paid for by a liquor company for Mecklenburg County ABC members and salaries for a father-son team in New Hanover County.

In both instances, those boards are countywide, not local entities.

Unlike many other states, where liquor is sold in private stores, North Carolina liquor stores are state-run and come under the jurisdiction of the ABC boards.

The boards are considered local, independent political subdivisions of the state.

Iredell County has two ABC boards: One in Statesville, the other in Mooresville. The Statesville board oversees the operation of the city's two liquor stores, while Mooresville's board coordinates the operation of the three ABC stores there.

At the Dec. 2 meeting, Statesville ABC board General Manager Tip Nicholson testified before the council, urging it to adopt the proposed resolution, which in turn urges the state to keep the current arrangement.

"The goal of the Statesville ABC board is to promote responsible alcohol sales through control, to provide the highest level of service to our customers and to generate revenue for our local community," Nicholson said.

Some advocates of privatization claim states with privately run liquor stores offer a greater variety of services and lower prices than states such as North Carolina.

Those who favor the current structure point to the North Carolina ABC law, which dictates that a percentage of revenue from the store's operations be used to fund law enforcement and substance abuse/education programs.

In fact, local ABC boards have some latitude in deciding precisely where those funds will go, and City Council members repeatedly have pointed to those donations as a major reason why the local ABC boards should be retained.