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Editorial: Liquor stores provide valuable funding

In the span of a week, the city of Farmington has progressed from a discussion about whether to relocate one of its liquor stores to a much bigger-picture examination of whether it should be in the liquor business in the first place.

It's not clear just how long that discussion will take, but considering that the city just agreed to extend the lease of its current downtown liquor store for another year, it appears it will be a while.

There are some compelling arguments against the city continuing to operate its two liquor stores. The most commonly heard is that it is simply not the city's place to operate a business that disrupts the free market, which a municipal liquor operation does by shutting out privately owned liquor stores.

Why shouldn't the city let other liquor stores set up shop in Farmington? New businesses bring new taxes, after all. If the city wants new business development, closing the doors of its liquor stores could potentially pave the way for just that.

There are positives to the city running a municipal store, of course, and the biggest one is money.

Money spent at the store goes into the city's budget. That's not a small thing at a time when the city's finances are stretched taut. Liquor store profits help cover shortfalls at the city's municipal pool and at Schmitz-Maki Arena.

Julie May, the council's most vocal opponent of a continued municipal liquor operation, has argued that if the pool and the ice arena cannot support themselves, the city should get out of those businesses as well. But both facilities are valuable amenities in the city, and very few similar operations turn a profit.

There's been enough talk of a need for more sheets of ice in Farmington that you'd think if someone believed they could make money with a privately run arena they would have built one by now.

It is the money, ultimately, that is the most compelling factor here. While there certainly seems to be a market in Farmington for a liquor store, there is no guarantee during a slow economy that a private operator will rush to fill the void the city would leave behind. No liquor store, no tax money. No tax money, and the city is left with a big hole to fill.

Perhaps the city shouldn't be in the liquor business long term, but until there is another source for the money the operation would provide it appears to be the best solution.