One item that seemed destined for the budget cutting-room floor was the purchase of a walk-in refrigeration facility for the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center that could store alcohol for county-operated beverage services at the facility. With little fanfare, it was included in the final budget.
During the board’s budget deliberations, it was the refrigeration system — identified as key to implementing the county-managed alcohol sales — that looked to receive the ax from the proposed budget. An investment of $30,190 to provide secured storage and refrigeration was deemed necessary to alcohol sales within the Expo Center, which could assist other operations and special events at the facility, officials said.
Commissioners deadlocked leading up to the end of June and eventually went the way of an interim budget with no one to break the 2-2 tie. During those deadlocked votes, one of the issues commissioners on both sides of the fence seemed to agree on was that the Expo Center storage and potential county-operated alcohol sales could wait.
In the end, however, the 2012-13 budget included the $30,000-plus line item.
Ray Jordan, center director, said selling alcoholic beverages at the Agri-Exposition Center would help offset costs and generate revenue for the county, as well as boost rental income from promoters wishing to have alcohol available to their guests. On the other hand, he said the sales could mean higher costs for renters hosting an event and the potential loss of rental income by those selecting another venue where they can bring their own alcohol. The Expo Center would also shoulder increased liability.
When Commissioner John Blanton returned for a July 17 meeting to adopt the actual 2012-12 budget, he included several modifications to the recommended plan but did not include in his motion the exclusion of the Expo Center refrigeration equipment, which was left alone and thus continued to be part of the proposed plan.
Due to illness, Blanton had missed all the budget work sessions and dicussions about eliminating the item from the adopted budget.
“Nothing was ever agreed upon,” said county manager Ed Causey, who noted that revised and updated 2012-13 departmental budgets were expected to be handed back to department heads this week. “The only changes are changes in (Blanton’s) motion. (Eliminating the Expo Center storage expenditure) was talked about but was not included in that motion.”
In addition to the purchase of a walk-in cooler, implementing a full ABC sales policy at the Agri-Exposition Center would include upgrading the ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) Permit, a cost of $2,200 annually; portable bars at a cost of $1,000 to $1,500; and creating a secure storage area for liquor and supplies.
The Expo Center currently holds a special occasions permit, which it has operated under for the past 13 years. It is renewed annually at a cost of $100. It also carries host liquor liability insurance at an annual cost of $2,400.
There have been four options available to renters, including having no alcohol whatsoever; providing alcohol to invited guests; allowing invited guests to bring their own alcoholic beverages (beer and wine only); and allowing a non-profit organization to apply for a special one-time permit from the N.C. ABC Commission that will allow it to serve or sell beer, unfortified and fortified wine or spirituous liquor, or to allow “brown-bagging” at a single fundraising event.
Once all applicable ABC permits for the center are obtained, all clients who have alcohol served or allowed at a function or event would be required to utilize an “in-house” service, whether through a corkage fee, cash bar or open bar structure.
Those wishing to offer their own alcoholic beverages could do so, but would be subject to a flat fee to the Expo Center as part of the corkage fee. The cash bar would allow purchases to be made directly from the in-house beverage service, while the open bar would mean the host pays a certain discounted rate to offer alcoholic beverages to guests “free of charge.”
Earlier this year, Jordan told commissioners that many choosing to provide alcoholic beverages have asked whether the Expo Center offers options for serving drinks to guests. Many times, he said, there is a large party and the hosts do not want to have to worry about another aspect of the event — this would help in that regard, while gaining revenue to help the facility offset its own costs.
The county has projected $8,000 in additional revenue the first year under the program and significantly more revenue in subsequent years. Causey said that remains to be seen and noted that existing contracts for currently scheduled events would be honored.
Causey said he expected Jordan to go forward with the purchase of the needed equipment in the near future, but noted he did not expect to have the operation up and running for several months. “He will proceed with it,” Causey said. “I expect it will take several months to get the storage stuff.”
Causey touts upkeep funds
While the budget was modified slightly from its recommended form, Causey said he was satisfied that some key elements were left intact, notably the establishment of capital reserve maintenance accounts, for long-term facilities upkeep.
Among a handful of modifications the board made, the funds were set up at 75 percent of Causey’s recommended amount — a total of $370,000, which encompasses $150,000 for the county, $112,500 for Sampson County Schools, $56,250 for Clinton City Schools and $56,250 for Sampson Community College. A total of $500,000 was initially recommended.
A salary increase for employees along a tenure scale, a reduction in Sampson County Sheriff’s Office replacement cars from 12 to 10 and the hiring of a previously-frozen administrative staff position were also approved, however Causey said the establishment of accounts was crucial.
“One of the things I’m particularly pleased with is that the board voted to establish the maintenance reserve accounts,” Causey remarked.
The county manager said it blows his mind when looking at the tally it takes for building maintenance for the county, two school systems and the community college. The numbers are staggering. Saving money now is key, he said.
“We just have to be committed to dealing with infrastructure needs,” he said. “I’m pleased we started this process.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.