ABC Chairman: Alcohol law enforcement needs more funding

Posted November 14, 2013

— Lawmakers need to dedicate more money to the North Carolina Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement if the state hopes to make a dent in problems such as underage drinking and violence at private clubs, the state's top alcohol enforcement officials told lawmakers Thursday. 

"We've been underfunded for a number of years," said Jim Gardner, a former lieutenant governor who is now chairman of the three-member Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

The commission is responsible for issuing and revoking permits to sell alcohol. ALE is a separate statewide police agency under the Department of Public Safety. 

Gardner and other ABC enforcement officials were speaking to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety, a panel that recommends changes to the state's criminal laws and law enforcement budget to the full General Assembly. 

Statewide, ALE has 102 sworn officers, most of those dedicated to policing alcohol laws, although the agency is also charged with enforcing the lottery law, boxing rules and drug laws. 

For the current budget year, legislators cut the agency's budget by $1.7 million, to $9.85 million. The ABC Commission gave the ALE $500,000 to help make up for that shortfall, with another $200,000 coming from the lottery commission. Combined, that $700,000 allowed the agency to keep 12 staff members, nine of those officers, employed.

Asked what would happen if the state was not able to provide that $700,000 going forward, ALE Director Gregory Baker said it would have "a catastrophic effect for our ability to execute our mission." 

To cope with the cuts, Baker said, ALE has been forced to place more than one district office under a single field supervisor.

"That's problematic for us," he said. 

Lawmakers peppered Baker and Gardner with questions. Rep. Jaime Boles, R-Moore, noted that local ABC boards that are overseen by the commission also help pay for law enforcement efforts.

"So, is it fair to say we don't just have 83 agents enforcing ABC laws?" Boles asked Baker.

Baker said that it was, but he could not give an exact number of local law enforcement dedicated to ABC enforcement. 

Enforcement is different from county to county.

Some local boards create their own ABC police departments that do nothing except conduct inspections and investigate liquor-related crimes. In other counties, the boards contract with local police or sheriffs offices to provide extra enforcement of bars, restaurants  and stores with ABC permits. Those local police agencies, Gardner said, often lack the expertise to enforce the state's complex liquor laws. 

And, he noted, alcohol-related enterprises account for a $5 billion-a-year business in North Carolina, with some 18,000 retail locations holding more than 60,000 permits. 

Other lawmakers were more sympathetic to Gardner's message, asking about new measures the state has taken to crack down on private clubs – bars that meet certain membership requirements – and underage drinking. 

"We don't have to give anyone in the state of North Carolina a permit to sell alcohol," Gardner said.

Already, he said, the state has warned the owners of private clubs that they need to abide by rules that have existed for years but have been let slide recently. He added that he was considering instituting a three-month waiting period for those seeking new ABC permits. During that period, he said, the state would have time to conduct more thorough background checks. 

But, he said, what the state really needs is more agents to help enforce existing laws and rules, particularly when it comes to underage drinking.

"Can we do it? Absolutely we can if we're wiling to put the resources into it," Gardner said."Talk is cheap, we're going to have to put some assets behind it."

Gardner suggested that lawmakers dedicate roughly $12 million raised from certain beer and wine permits to pay for ALE. This would boost ALE's budget and reduce year-to-year uncertainty he said.

"What better way to do it than take the source of some of the problem and turn it into the solution?" he said. 

Since Republicans took over the General Assembly, lawmakers have moved away from dedicating sources of revenue to specific programs, as Gardner suggests. Instead, as part of an effort to make sure all spending is reviewed every year, budget-writers have preferred to sweep all revenue into a single "general fund" pot and then allocate budgets from there.


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  • morgannyy Nov 18, 2013

    Underfunded, but overpaid!

  • SARCASTICLES Nov 18, 2013

    Curious, ain't it, that NC under the NCGOP's "leadership" is going to PRIVATIZE Medicaid while the State of North Carolina maintains a socialist, "big government" grip on the sale of liquor, which makes it more expensive here.

    Naw, there ain't nothin' wrong with THAT "logic"....HYPOCRITES.

  • Mo Blues Nov 18, 2013

    The state demands even more control of its liquor monopoly. Get the state OUT of the liquor business. I trust moonshiners far more than these paramilitary tax collectors.

  • Rebelyell55 Nov 18, 2013

    Having worked in some bars, gone to some ALE classes, knowing some bar owner, I find they're more better at policing themselves than any ALE. They have a lot to lose if they don't follow the rules and laws.

  • Rebelyell55 Nov 18, 2013

    From what I've read the guy doesn't have clue what his group is doing and what the local LEO do, yet all he wants is money. I think they need a new director, not more money.
    The last thing I read, concerns me a bit. It states that the budget writers sweep everything into single pot to pull money from. I've read where they've increase taxs, fees etc. and stated that the money from the increase fee would go toward certain items, (increase in boat registration fees come to mind) was that a lie? Or does this increase go into the general fund?

  • 42_wral_mods_suck_i'm_gone Nov 18, 2013

    No. Cut high level staff salaries first. Or better yet disband ABC. Just let the local LEO enforce the laws.

  • sidecutter Nov 18, 2013

    Dis-band ALE and roll the duties into the SBI. The state needs to get out of the liquor business.

  • remer54 Nov 16, 2013

    Needs to be done away with.

  • Mustang Nov 15, 2013

    Take the drinking age back to 18 or 19 and half of them wouldn't be needed.

  • wildpig777 Nov 15, 2013

    AS CORRUPT AS THE abc system has been proven to be {that's not my opinion btw} that's historical fact-- the only thing ALE NEEDS IS TO GET OFF THEIR dierares and do some productive work-- I all for abolishing the abc system--it should have been done away with yrs and yrs ago....