The Montgomery County Council has voted to establish a task force to determine whether the purpose of the county Department of Liquor Control should be to control sales of liquor or to make money for the county.

The Department of Liquor Control purchases all liquor, wine and beer that is sold in the county. In addition to acting as the sole alcohol wholesale outlet in the county, the department also retails liquor, wine and beer through its 20 retail stores.

Ever since the department was established right after prohibition ended in 1933, its stated purpose has been to regulate or control sales of liquor. Until the 1950s, the department did, in fact, control sales of liquor since it had only a few retail stores that were not easily accessible and since most restaurants and country clubs were not allowed to sell liquor.

But during the past few decades, the philosophy of control has eroded. Today the department has numberous retail outlets and advertises its liquor. Then too, county residents can easily drive to Prince George's or the District to buy liquor.

Now, county officials justify the existence of the county Department of Liquor Control by saying that it produces several million dollars each year in revenue that is used to defray county residents' taxes.

"There are pressures on the Department of Liquor Control from within and without county government to improve its merchandising and increase its revenue," the council said in its resolution to establish the task force earlier this month.

But when county officials are asked why the department does not make a higher profit, they say its function is not to make a profit but to control sales of liquor. A report written by county finance director Al Gault several years ago stated that the department made only a fraction of the profit of retail stores in Virginia.

The County Council will select the task force members from the League of Women Voters, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, the Chamber of Commerce, the Montgomery County Public School System and other organizations.