County delegation votes to increase fees on one-day liquor licenses as part of bill

Republican Rzepkowski criticizes decision

March 05, 2000|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Dividing almost entirely on party lines, Anne Arundel County's House delegation has voted to increase fees on one-day liquor licenses by as much as 150 percent -- a "tax" that would fall on newlyweds, families and nonprofit organizations, an opponent bitterly contends.

So miffed was Del. James E. Rzepkowski that the 32nd District Republican fired off a fax to news organizations late Friday afternoon listing the delegation's votes on the fee increase -- approved 7-6 as an amendment to a bill making another change in Anne Arundel's liquor laws.

The amendment would increase the fee for one-day licenses for beer and wine from $10 to $25, and for beer, wine and liquor from $25 to $50. The licenses are required for gatherings in public settings where liquor is served, ranging from celebrations at wedding halls to political fund-raising affairs.

Only one of the eight Democrats -- the 32nd District's Theodore J. Sophocleus -- broke the party line to vote with the Republicans against the fee increase, which was sponsored by the district's third member, delegation Chairwoman Mary Ann Love.

"I was extremely bothered, very angry," Rzepkowski said yesterday, adding that efforts to raise the fees had failed in earlier years when Republicans held the majority power in the delegation.

Love said yesterday that she introduced the amendment at the request of the liquor board and noted that the fees had gone unchanged for about two decades.

The fees were among several changes approved by the delegation, including substantial increases in penalties for violations of liquor laws. The fine for a violation that is cause for license suspension, such as underage drinking, for example, would be increased from $1,000 to $5,000, Love said.

The liquor board brings in considerable revenue for the county, Love said, but has an office in need of a computerization upgrade and is staffed by two people worthy of a salary upgrade.

Another member of the Democratic majority, the 31st District's Joan Cadden, noted that neighboring jurisdictions have higher fees than Arundel's.

"I vote my conscience, for what I believe would benefit our county," Cadden said. "Is it unreasonable? I don't think that raising the fees was an unreasonable thing to do."

But Rzepkowski said raising the one-day license fees was "unnecessary."

"The liquor board boasts that they return $600,000 to the coffers of Anne Arundel County," Rzepkowski said. "They make a profit. Why on earth would you raise fees on people holding a family picnic if you're making a profit?"

The local liquor bills will be among nearly 200 bills coming before the House Economic Matters Committee in a hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow, Love said. It eventually must pass the Senate.

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