A mixture of Ellicott City residents and liquor store owners are supporting a proposal to limit licenses for carryout alcohol sales in Howard County.
A bill that would cap the number of licenses at one per every 2,600 residents is under consideration by the county's General Assembly delegation, though sponsors Dels. Warren E. Miller and Guy Guzzone say they are open to other ways of achieving the same end. The 11 state legislators heard no discouragement at Tuesday night's annual hearing at school board headquarters for bills that would apply only to Howard County.
Another liquor bill that would allow restaurants to sell beer or wine to customers eating in their establishments fell short of unanimity, however.
In an unusual move, several residents stood to oppose county requests for state bond bills to get money for projects like the Columbia Association's remake of Symphony Woods, arguing that the state's dire revenue picture means no such "earmarks" should be allowed for fiscal 2011. The county is seeking state funding for six local projects, ranging from repair funds for Carroll Baldwin Hall in Savage to money to help start work on Troy Regional Park in Elkridge and provide bathrooms and a concrete pad for a telescope at Alpha Ridge Park.
The liquor issue drew the most interest.
Residents who live near U.S. 40 and St. Johns Lane are still angry about the granting of a liquor license to a new store near their homes, despite what they said are seven other liquor stores within a 3.6-mile distance. They want a hard and fast limit on licenses to prevent more stores from opening.
"This will prevent stores from popping up on every corner and in the middle of the block," said Bill Boarman. He predicted a limit would also help cap the rising number of drunken-driving arrests in the county. "This bill is needed, and it's a good bill," he told the legislators.
Corinne Gorzo, co-owner of Glenwood Liquors, agreed, as did Jack Milani, legislative chairman of the Maryland Licensed Beverage Association.
"There seems to be an over-saturation of licenses in Ellicott City," Gorzo said.
"If you don't deal with it soon, you will have some regrets," warned Milani, a license holder in Baltimore County, where population limits have been in effect for years.
Frank Miller said the new store on U.S. 40 does not serve the public need, but said that's hard for appointed liquor boards to evaluate. "Common sense indicates there is no real need for new liquor stores," he said.
Angela Beltram, a former county councilwoman in the area, agreed. "I think enough is enough," she said.
The other bill would allow servers 18 and older to serve mixed drinks as well as the beer and wine they are now allowed to serve, and would also allow restaurants to sell bottled wine to go to diners.
Joe Barbera, who heads the restaurant association and also owns an Italian restaurant in Columbia, said selling an extra bottle of wine to a customer "is an opportunity for us to provide a service."
Melvin R. Thompson, senior vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, agreed, noting that similar sales are allowed in eight other Maryland counties without hurting liquor stores.
It was supported by both the Howard County Licensed Beverage Association and the county restaurant association, but one liquor store owner opposed it.
Eric Kaufman, who owns a liquor store in the 9300 block Baltimore National Pike, argued that it might hurt his business, and add to the drunken-driving problem. Plenty of restaurants, he said, "are not going to be following the letter of the law. With the hundreds and hundreds of restaurants in this county, the potential of intoxication will only be increased."
The delegation also debated state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman's third attempt to win some tax relief for people whose homes get public water but not sewer service, and a bill from Del. Frank S. Turner that would require county disclosure to a home buyer of the property tax burden for a property after the sale. Many buyers suffer "sticker shock" due to the artificially low tax bills the seller is paying after years of residence under Howard County's 5 percent assessment cap. That cap is relaxed for one year, allowing the taxes to rise, after a sale occurs.
Both bills prompted opposition. The Ulman administration opposed Kittleman's bill on grounds it would set a bad policy precedent by carving out a special benefit for some property owners, which might prompt attempts by others to win an exemption for a tax from which they don't get a benefit. The ad valorem utility tax at issue pays the cost of basic infrastructure for all water and sewer utilities.
Turner's bill got conceptual administration support, but was opposed by Realtors who argued it would complicate a transaction and inevitably draw unqualified sales agents into an area for which they're not trained. Mark Fenroth, director of regulatory affairs for the Maryland Association of Realtors argued that tax information is easily available, and the duty of disclosure should be on the tax collector. Turner's bill requires the county's consumer affairs office to estimate the new tax bill, though county lobbyist Ned Cheston said the county finance office is better suited to the task.
The delegation will vote on the bills after the General Assembly session starts in January.