Raising the sales tax on alcohol in Bethel is on the ballot Tuesday. The current sales tax is 12 percent, and Ordinance 17-36 proposes raising the tax to 15 percent and allocating 20 percent of the revenue generated to fund Bethel’s health, public safety, and social services programs.
Leif Albertson, an incumbent running for another Bethel City Council term, drafted the ordinance. At KYUK’s Candidate Forum last week, he said that the idea is to allocate revenue to alleviate the increased burden on social and public safety services since the city allowed liquor licenses.
“When we started legal alcohol sales in this community it became cheaper and easier to buy alcohol. That’s just a fact,” said Albertson.
Albertson points to a 40 percent increase in ambulance runs, an increase in police calls, more work for Bethel Search and Rescue, and the fact that Tundra Women’s Coalition has said that they are over capacity since liquor started being sold legally in Bethel. He also said that Bethel Native Corporation only operating one month of the year has essentially given Alaska Commercial Company an effective monopoly on alcohol sales in town.
He thinks that when another alcohol store opens, competition will drive down liquor prices.
“So, if we follow the rules of economics, if they choose to operate, it's going to lower the price of alcohol further and make it easier to purchase alcohol in this community,” said Albertson.
Albertson went on to say that raising the tax is the best option there is with the city’s third liquor license looming in the distance. Mark Springer, Naim Shabani, Mitchell Forbes, and Bradon Brink said they’d all be voting yes on the ordinance come October 3.
Council candidate Richard Robb, the current Mayor of Bethel, said that he respectfully disagreed that increasing the alcohol tax is the solution.
“I personally will vote no. I think we tax alcohol at one of the highest rates I’ve ever heard: 12 percent,” said Robb. “The problem if we tax too much is that it makes illegal liquor more affordable, and it also makes Anchorage liquor more affordable.”
Robb says that he’s not advocating that people drink, but he does not want to create an incentive for illegal alcohol sales.
Candidate and former councilman Raymond “Thor” Williams said that he’d also be voting no.
“With not knowing where that money is going to go, that additional resources to the community, I have to vote no,” said Thor.
Twenty percent of the revenue from the sales tax increase, if passed, will be allocated to a separate account “used to fund the Community Action Grant programs,” according to the proposed ordinance. The Community Action Grant Committee will direct funds to support programs “that foster community wellness, direct impact to the community’s vulnerable populations and/or civic engagement of Bethel residents and project beneficiaries.”