Bethel Metropolis Council is weighing excise tax on sugary drinks amid a pandemic

Bethel City Council has been considering a possible new tax on sugary drinks. The tax will be discussed at the Bethel City Council meeting on December 8th.

The ordinance would introduce a 1 cent per ounce tax on sweetened beverages. That’s an increase of 17 cents for the average bottle of soda pop.

The tax was first discussed in August, but the vote has so far been tabled to give people more time to learn about its pros and cons. The city’s parks and recreation committee that instituted the tax took this extra time to bolster its reasoning. Mayor Michelle DeWitt, who sits on the committee, said the committee added evidence showing the link between sugary beverages and health problems.

“We’re specifically talking about tooth decay, diabetes, obesity,” said DeWitt.

At the time, DeWitt said she was questioning whether a pandemic was the right time to introduce a new tax.

“But I’ve also realized that the very things we’re talking about that are made worse by sugary beverages are health conditions that have led to worse outcomes for COVID-19 patients,” DeWitt said.

According to the CDC, diabetes and obesity can increase the risk of serious illness in COVID-19 patients of all ages.

The park and recreation committee said the revenue from the tax could be used for priorities such as balancing the YK fitness center’s budget. Other priorities include a community fitness project, parks, hiking trails, and outdoor recreation. The committee also discussed improving the taste of water in certain neighborhoods, particularly Bethel Heights.

The Alaska Beverage Association rejects the tax. The association has stated that the tax places an unequal burden on families with low incomes, who, according to a study, consume around 40% more sugary drinks than families with higher incomes. Association officials said the tax would affect purchases made with SNAP cards. SNAP households generally spend around 10% of their services on drinks containing sugar. The tax also applies to syrups and powdered beverages such as seaweed. Elders would be exempt from this excise duty.

Although the regulation is up for debate tonight, DeWitt hopes the Council will vote again. She wants to raise awareness of the health problems associated with sugary drinks.

Also at the December 8th session, the council will consider options to spend the nearly $ 2 million CARES Act funds remaining before December 30th.

The city council will also consider a transfer of ownership. The city currently owns the land under the ONC Multipurpose Building, also known as the old bowling alley. Councilors can vote to instruct the city administrator to transfer this land to ONC.

Visit KYUK to hear the regular Bethel City Council meeting, which will be streamed live on December 8th at 6:30 pm.