On Tuesday, April 13th, residents of the city will have another opportunity to share their views with Bethel City Council on a proposed tax on sugary beverages. As suggested, it would be an excise tax paid by those who sell the drinks. It could end up back on committee for more work after the public comments were received at today’s meeting.
The tax would not be billed to consumers of sugary beverages, but traders and retailers could choose to pass the tax on to their customers.
This is not the first time councilors have heard of this tax. The idea last came up in a series of meetings in December 2020, but the Parks, Recreation, Aquatic Health and Safety Committee tabled the vote to make changes to the proposal following criticism from Council members.
The new proposed amendments include language that clarifies what sugary drinks actually are and increases the proposed tax to 2 cents an ounce instead of 1 cent an ounce. The committee has also proposed to clarify how sugary beverages in powder form such as seaweed are taxed. Finally, given the concerns of councilors about the accounting and application of tax revenues, the committee proposed creating an interest-bearing account for the revenues reserved for projects of the park committee. The main project envisaged by the committee is the construction of a new community gym for intramural sports. They also hope to use some of the proceeds to make Bethel’s water safer and more palatable.
Kathy Hanson, who sits on the park committee, said her interest in the tax began as a means of supporting the gym. The more she learned about the harmful effects of sugary beverages, the more it has become a driving force behind her motivations.
“It is killing us with dental disease, obesity and diabetes. Diabetes has tripled nationwide in the past 30 years. And that’s a fatal disease, a heart disease. These things are caused by ingesting too much sugar, ”said Hanson.
Christy Inman, the owner of Corinas Caselot Groceries, said the tax will disproportionately affect people from villages who cannot even use the gym it funds. She said the city should focus on clean drinking water first.
“To me, it’s like some form of legal theft. This is not about health, but about greed with a do-gooder name. When it comes to health, we would be talking about clean and safe drinking water not only for Bethel but also for the region, ”Inman said.
Inman also said that many of her customers are barely able to afford their groceries and the tax would make food costs even more difficult for them. Hanson said the committee hopes to buy itself more time by re-filing the vote.
Also at the April 13 city council meeting, Councilor Conrad “CJ” McCormick will table a resolution hiring an independent contractor, Rachel K. Gernat, to assess how the city and its police force are investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases follow.
And the Community Action Grant Technical Review Board will refer the recommended grant recipients to the city council for approval. Recommendations include a ski groomer, wrestling mat, first Friday funds, and more.
To hear the April 13 meeting, switch to KYUK at 6:30 p.m.
An earlier version of this story said the proposed tax is 2 cents an ounce. That’s wrong, the current suggested amount is 1 cent per ounce, but there is a change in the table to increase this amount to two cents per ounce.