Salisbury alcohol board measure progressing in General Assembly

A bill that would allow the city of Salisbury to establish its own liquor licensing board is still on track to be introduced in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly.

State Delegate Carl Anderton said he will introduce it on the city’s behalf as soon as a draft is returned to his office.

If the city succeeds in establishing its own licensing board, it would remove the licensing responsibility within Salisbury city limits from a county board that city officials see as being too political and lacking transparency.

While some members of the Eastern Shore delegation have expressed concerns – and even downright opposition — about establishing a new liquor board, Anderton said he sees it as an issue of local control.

“If the city wants to do it, let them do it,” he said.

Mayor Jake Day said he met recently with Maryland Speaker of The House Adrienne Jones and other legislators to gain their support for the measure.

City officials have argued the move would allow business owners to get all of their necessary permits in one office. The city has already streamlined the process for taking projects from permitting through completion, but restaurants and stores must still get liquor licenses through the county board.

They also have pointed out that most of the alcohol sales in Wicomico County occur within Salisbury city limits, but the city has no voice in how or to whom licenses are granted.

The proposed Salisbury board would be modeled after one in Annapolis, which has been separate from the Anne Arundel County board for years, with members appointed by the mayor. Wicomico County Board of License Commissioners members are political appointments by the governor.

City officials have been considering such a move for a few years, but it became a priority after accusations were made by Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver over how a liquor license was granted for last year’s National Folk Festival.

Culver suggested the city and state Comptroller Peter Franchot may have acted illegally when Franchot’s office granted a license for the festival, effectively bypassing the Wicomico County Board of License Commissioners.

Day has said that after city officials perceived the county’s licensing board was dragging its feet on approving a beer and wine license at last year’s event, the city went to Gov. Larry Hogan and then to Franchot whose office ultimately signed off on the license.

Franchot could still grant a license for this year’s National Folk Festival, set for Sept. 11-13, before a new law limiting his authority takes effect.

During last year’s session, the General Assembly passed a bill that transfers the alcohol and tobacco regulatory powers from the Comptroller’s Office to a new five-member Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, to be appointed by the governor.

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the measure, but the General Assembly voted to override the governor and pass the bill into law, effective July 1.

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