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Bethel City Council approves new fitness center rates based on income

The pool at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center in Bethel.
Dean Swope/KYUK
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In the Sept. 27 Bethel City Council meeting, members voted to approve new rates based on income for Yukon Kuskokwim Fitness Center. Council member Perry Barr introduced the proposal, which passed unanimously.

“I brought this up because I thought that it would make going into the fitness center a lot more affordable for those that are lower income or low income,” Barr said. “This is something that other communities across the country have done.”

For an example of the new rates, a four person household currently pays over $3,080 per year for the whole family to use both the gym and the pool. Under this new scale, if that household’s total income was less than around $70,000, they’ll be eligible to pay less that $770 for the year for the whole family.

Council member Rose “Sugar” Henderson said that she thinks the “pay-what-you-can” scale will get more people into the fitness center.

“I know that the fitness center isn’t frequented by a lot of people because of the cost,” Henderson said.

Users won’t be asked to fill out paperwork or provide income records to access the new rates, which go into effect Oct. 1. The new scale will be evaluated in six months and again in a year.

In another measure related to the fitness center, the council voted to allocate $40,000 so that city employees can access free gym and pool memberships.

The council also introduced a measure that would create a program to forgive fees, penalties, and interest for businesses that haven’t been paying sales tax revenue to the city.
It won’t take effect until it’s formally approved by the council.

This proposal is different from an ordinance the council voted down in August. That one would have allowed the council to excuse uncollected sales taxes, along with fees. This current proposal would only waive interest, fees, and penalties for businesses that meet a certain criteria. The current proposal does not waive the unpaid taxes themselves.

The city’s recently hired finance director, Duane Wright, has been more aggressive than past directors in auditing local businesses suspected of not paying sales taxes. He said that the city is potentially leaving behind millions of dollars in uncollected revenue.

Both amnesty proposals were introduced by city council member Mary "Beth" Hessler. She’s a landlord and one of the people who recently discovered they’d been delinquent in paying city sales taxes. She rents out part of her duplex. Hessler said that the city bears some responsibility for the unpaid sales tax revenue through lack of enforcement.

“Seeing that we are servants as a council and not lords over our people, we are here to serve. It would be fair to have an amnesty,” Hessler said.

Two council members voted against considering this ordinance at a future meeting, including Henderson.

“I don’t think it’s fair to those that don’t have business licenses that have to suffer with the road conditions, with the lack of drivers, with the services that they’re receiving when they have a complaint,” Henderson said.

The other council member to vote against the proposal was Michelle DeWitt.

The city finance director told the council that of the 29 audits his office has completed since he stepped into the position, only one of those businesses had paid the taxes and fees they owe the city.

This was the last full city council meeting for three outgoing members. Conrad "CJ" McCormick is leaving his term a year early to run for state representative. Both Michelle DeWitt and Perry Barr’s two-year terms are ending. Rose “Sugar” Henderson is running for a second term in the Oct. 4 election.

Nina is a temporary news reporter at KYUK. She comes to Bethel from NPR, where she's a producer at Morning Edition.
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