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Henderson County commissioners agreed to give the county ABC board a budget that it could use to fund a marketing study, sidestepping a direct answer to the board's request for $9,000 to guide a decision on a new liquor store.
Beau Waddell, the county ABC Board chairman, asked for $9,000 for a study of the financial viability of a proposed new county ABC store and guidance on where one might be located. Dennie R. Martin, a marketing consultant with Martin-McGill in Asheville, offered to conduct the study for that amount.
There are currently three ABC stores in Hendersonville, one in Laurel Park and one in Fletcher, but none in the unincorporated county. The four stores had $5 million in sales last year. Hendersonville opened its third store last fall. Board members and store managers from all three municipal ABC systems have told the new county ABC board that they don't believe the county can support a sixth store, and warned that if a new one opens it could put at least one existing store out of business.
Voters last year overwhelming expressed a desire for a county ABC store, Waddell said, leading to creation of the ABC board. The ballot contained a series of alcohol sale and consumption questions on the sale of beer and wine in stores, and the sale of alcohol in restaurants.
Waddell said a county-owned store would require $250,000 to stock, not counting construction. State ABC officials have said the county should be prepared to spend roughly $1 million to build a store and outfit with security and other necessary items.
"We already have four stores in the county and I have difficulty understanding why we need another one located in the unincorporated area," said Commissioner Grady Hawkins, understating by one the total number.
Others said that, although Hawkins may be right, the county won't know unless it has solid marketing data to go on.
"I favor this study because voters told us they want another store," Commissioner Tommy Thompson said. "I'm not convinced it's needed but we can't decide that until we get more data."
The board directed its staff to draft a budget for the ABC board that would include enough money for the marketing study and come back on April 1 with the information. At that time the board would vote.
The proposal to spend $9,000 in tax money on a marketing study for a liquor store dismayed supporters of the county DARE program, which Sheriff Charlie McDonald eliminated in a budget trim.
"Twenty years ago I was a meth addict and alcoholic," said Steve Dalton. "I got involved with DARE and got clean and have worked ever since to help others. How could the county fund another ABC liquor store but not fund DARE? We cannot put our kids at risk. What's more important, kids or another liquor store? Fund the $9,000 to DARE instead."
"Budget cuts are necessary," School Board member Amy Lynn Holt added, "but not at the expense of educating our children against the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco."
Board members said the sheriff's decision to cut DARE was his to make.
"It's up the sheriff to make that decision," Commissioner Larry Young said. "We don't micro-manage the sheriff's budget."
Chairman Messer agreed.
"I'm a supporter of the DARE program, but we're not a micro-management team when it comes to the sheriff's budget," he said.