The Bethel City Council has decided how to use tobacco tax revenues. The tax was instituted with hopes of curbing youth smoking and will now fund the Parks and Recreation Department
Since April, when the tax went into effect, the city collected more than $100,000 in revenue. Based on projections, officials are now budgeting $300,000 for the 2014 fiscal year.
Mayor Joe Klejka proposed funding parks and rec.
“I never expected that much money,” Klejka says. “I was hoping that it would help people not smoke or use tobacco as much and I wouldn’t want to count on these dollars in future years because I’m hoping it’s discretionary smoking and it would go away. But I would like to use those dollars for something healthy, something to encourage people, things that might make you not want to smoke.”
The total funding projections are being split between new recreational activities, park development, bike and walking paths and the YK Regional Aquatic Center.
Council member Rick Robb objected to the proposed spending.
“Before I say ‘let’s go spend $60,000 on a walking path or a bike path,’ okay, what is the bike path, a little bit more detail on where we’re going to spend it because I have concerns about throwing it into categories like that,” Robb says. “And I don’t know the answer so I really can’t be in favor of this ordinance.”
Robb proposed lowering Bethel sales tax but other councilmembers had concerns about spending the money on anything other than one-time projects because the funding is not guaranteed. The tobacco tax brought in $45,668 in May but decreased by more than $14,000 in June.
Council member Sharon Sigmon says because the tax is meant to curb smoking, she hopes revenues taper off.
“But in the meantime I do believe we need to put that money into the city,” Sigmon says. “Our city can use some sprucing up and benefits for the community.”
The amended budget passed 5-1.