PULLMAN, Wash -- The police chief in the town with the region's largest university is gearing up for Friday, when businesses will assume what had been the state's monopoly on hard liquor sales.
Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins' plans include decoy operations where minors are sent into stores to see if they can buy alcohol. He has also scheduled a training session on June 11 with presentations by police officers and officials from the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
"Our goal isn't to catch people doing something illegal," Jenkins said. "It's to help them be compliant."
The retailers selling hard alcohol in Washington towns will multiply on Friday.
Presently Pullman, home to Washington State University, has one place that sells spirits by the bottle, a state-owned store. Walmart and Rite Aid in Pullman have permission to carry hard liquor as soon as the change happens. So does Rosauers in nearby Colfax.
Safeway and Dissmore's IGA are seeking approval from the state liquor control board. Eric Busch, who won the rights for the Pullman state-owned store in an auction, hopes to move the operation to Sunset Mart.
As Jenkins oversees more vendors of hard alcohol, the state won't be contributing money to his plans for stepped-up enforcement.
To help balance the budget, state legislators eliminated cities' and counties' share of a liquor excise tax for this fiscal year and reduced it by $10 million for good, said Sheri Sawyer, legislative and policy analyst with the Association of Washington Cities.
All but $10 million of the excise tax revenue will return in 2013, Sawyer said.
Municipalities will still get the $10 million, but it will be through an addition to their share of profits in liquor sales, Sawyer said.
But the $10 million more in liquor profits comes from a provision in the Costco-backed initiative responsible for privatizing hard liquor sales and was supposed to be a boost for bolstered enforcement efforts, Sawyer said.
Aside from the $10 million, municipalities' share of profits have been frozen at 2011 levels, which is essentially a loss since that revenue had been steadily increasing, Sawyer said.
If municipalities see additional revenue from alcohol sales, it won't start until 2013. The money would come through the excise tax and could grow if consumers buy more alcohol in Washington, said Vickie Storey, Clarkston's city clerk and treasurer.
Pullman receives more revenue from alcohol sales than any other city in southeastern Washington, according to the Association of Washington Cities. It will lose $158,599 this year and then be at $356,176 next year, according to the association.
Legislators had few options as they balanced a tight budget, said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. "This is unknown territory and we had to make some difficult choices."
Still, Jenkins and Joel Hastings, Clarkston's police chief, are optimistic privatization will go smoothly. Many states have already gone this direction, and studies of how the transitions went found they generally happened without damaging public safety, they said.
They also noted the venues entering the hard liquor business in the region already have valid licenses for other types of liquor transactions.
Training requirements, along with doubling the penalties for selling to minors, should help keep alcohol out of the hands of minors, Hastings said. "That's a good deterrent."
Like Pullman, Clarkston's hard alcohol purveyors will proliferate on Friday. Costco, Walmart, Albertsons, Bi-Mart and Ricks Family Foods are among the stores approved to sell spirits, according to the state liquor control board.
A state-contracted store in Asotin and Heights Family Foods are among the Asotin County businesses still waiting for approval, along with a state-contracted store in Pomeroy in Garfield County, according to the board.
Williams may be contacted at ewilliamlmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.
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