August 12, 2013
State lawmakers chopped $1.75 million from the Alcohol Law Enforcement agency’s budget, which will slash its manpower by a third.
ALE has 83 special agents actively working on investigations in the state. The Department of Public Safety said the cuts could mean as many as 24 fewer agents in the field, and a total of six vacancies that likely won’t get filled.
The cuts are troubling to LaRonda Scott, executive director of the North Carolina chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“It’s just so much for the limited number of staff that they already have to tackle, and it’s so early to know what that impact is going to be, but it’s not going to be a positive one,” she said.
ALE agents enforce state Alcohol Beverage Control laws and investigate illegal activity at more than 18,000 places with permits to sell alcohol. They offer training and education to prevent bartenders from over-serving. They also work to stop underage drinking.
ALE is in the planning phase of a new collaboration with MADD to launch a new anti-underage-drinking campaign. The cuts will now have to be taken into consideration.
“We’re saddened by that because we know this will mean fewer people on the ground,” Scott said.
Adding to the frustration, back in 2002, state lawmakers approved a beer and wine permit renewal fee that was supposed to fully fund ALE at no cost to taxpayers. North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission Chairman and former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner said that fee generated $12 million last year, but lawmakers pulled the money into the general fund to make up for budget shortfalls instead.
“It’s going to have a tremendous downside effect on our ability now at the ABC Commission to carry out the rules and regulations of governing alcohol in this state,” Gardner said.
There are 14 state ALE agents assigned to work in Charlotte who could be a part of the staff cuts.
Mecklenburg County has its own ABC board with its own local agents who will not be impacted by the state reductions.