Bethel's sales tax on alcohol could see an increase and six candidates have secured seats on Bethel's City Council, according to unofficial election results released Tuesday on the city's website. Mitchell Forbes, Raymond “Thor” Williams, Naim Shabani, Mark Springer, Leif Albertson, and Richard Robb received the most number of votes, with 20 percent of Bethel's eligible voters casting ballots.
KYUK was at the Cultural Center precinct on Tuesday to take the pulse of Bethel voters.
Those who made their way to the polls were motivated.
“I’m a lifetime resident of Bethel,” said Alaska State Senator Lyman Hoffman, “and I am exercising my civic duty today, and encourage everyone to do so to make sure that the concerns of the community are met.”
And exercise their civic duty they did.
Former Bethel school librarian Dianne Graham said that she’s concerned about education and schools, and voted to increase the tax on alcohol from 12 to 15 percent.
“Because I wish they didn’t have it at all,” said Graham.
Military veteran Demetri Lestinhoff said that he hopes City Council will focus more on public safety in the coming term.
“I’ve noticed an increasing of inebriates around the town, and it’d be great if something could be done about that. I’ve seen a large increase over the past, not just since the liquor store opened, but over the past four or five years,” said Lestinhoff.
And former Bethel Mayor Agnes Phillips said that she’d hoped there would’ve been more than one Alaska Native running for City Council.
“I was born and raised in Bethel, and on the City Council from 1995 to 2000," said Phillips. "I served as the mayor from 1997 to 1999. I believe we need more Native representatives on Council."
Among those turning out to vote Tuesday was Bethel’s own Ninja Warrior, Nate DeHaan.
“I wanted to make sure to vote today to get my vote in on the alcohol sales tax issue,” says DeHaan. “I voted to increase the sales tax to 15 percent. I’m okay with alcohol sales here, but I want to make sure that we’re able to generate the income needed to address any potential issues that arise from having alcohol sales here.”
Also voting Tuesday, clad in a purple qaspeq for domestic violence awareness month, was Tundra Women’s Coalition Executive Director Eileen Arnold. Arnold says that the alcohol issue reaches to the heart of the community’s safety.
“People experiencing domestic violence, children in unsafe homes, sexual assault, which our numbers show are one the rise - reported assaults anyway. So one of the things I voted about was to raise the tax on alcohol,” says Arnold.
Unofficial results show that many people supported the sales tax increase, with 372 voting yes and 257 voting no. Arnold says that nonprofit agencies would benefit from the revenue generated by the increase.
“I think the nonprofits are really able to be creative about ways to engage the community, and creative ways to come together and help each other, so I hope that passes,” said Arnold.
Election results are still unofficial and are awaiting certification by the city.