Board ponders wine festival

2 commissioners object to county's sponsoring an event with alcohol

April 28, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Carroll Commissioners Robin Bartlett Frazier and Donald I. Dell said yesterday that the county should stop sponsoring its moneymaking Maryland Wine Festival, which attracts about 20,000 people annually.

Frazier and Dell said their objection is not to the festival, but to the alcohol that is served at the county-sponsored event on county-owned property. If the commissioners withdraw county support for the festival, the change will take effect next year.

"As part of our strategic plan, the commissioners are trying to prevent drugs and crime. We are committed to a zero-tolerance policy for drugs in the county," said Frazier, the freshman member of the three-member board. "We shouldn't give a mixed signal by sponsoring the wine festival, which promotes alcoholic beverages."

Dell agreed, saying he would support ending county sponsorship of the Maryland Wine Festival, which has been held in Westminster since 1984 on two days in September at the Carroll County Farm Museum. In addition to wineries, the event features food vendors, artisans and entertainment.

"I really have a problem with this being a government responsibility," said Dell, who is serving his third term. "It's totally planned and operated by the county. I just don't think that's right."

Frazier suggested that the commissioners turn over responsibility for the event to the Association of Maryland Wineries, made up of 10 independent wineries.

Board President Julia Walsh Gouge expressed reservations yesterday.

"We don't want to lose control of the festival," she said. "Another county could snap it up."

Inspired by the popularity of the Maryland Wine Festival, Baltimore and Howard counties sponsor similar events.

"We have people from all over the United States come to the festival," said Richard Soisson, deputy director of recreation and parks. "It's good for Carroll County's economic development and tourism. A lot of the inns and motels are booked that weekend."

Carroll's festival is listed among the American Bus Association's top 100 tour events, joining one other state event, the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival in Annapolis.

Frazier said yesterday that she will examine the issue.

"We have a year to look at it and see what makes sense," she said. "I plan to personally collect as much information as I can."

This is the second time in as many years that local leaders have considered withdrawing county support for the festival.

In November 1997, state Sen. Larry E. Haines, head of Carroll's legislative delegation, offered to sponsor a bill to repeal the licensing of the wine festival if the commissioners agreed to support the move.

"It's not the government's role to promote the sale of alcoholic beverages," Haines, a Republican, said at the time.

Dell agreed, but former Commissioners Richard T. Yates and W. Benjamin Brown refused to support such a measure, saying they were concerned about the loss of revenue.

Yesterday, Gouge also expressed concern about the money the county could lose if it stops sponsoring the wine festival. Over the past decade, the county has earned an average of $95,000 a year for organizing the event, which does not include staff time spent planning and promoting.

It costs the county about $10,000 to staff the festival each year, Soisson said.

"At this time, I don't think the wineries have the resources necessary to put on the event," he said.

Rob DeFord, chairman of the festival committee for the Association of Maryland Wineries, said he would prefer that the event not be changed.

"We enjoy our partnership with the Farm Museum and Carroll County," DeFord said. "We feel we each bring something to the festival that would be difficult to replace. If the commissioners so chose, we would consider other options, but with reluctance.

"The current situation has been excellent. It's good for the wineries, good for economic development in Carroll County and good for the Farm Museum. I think we tamper with it at our peril."

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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