On Tuesday, April 13, city residents will get another chance to tell Bethel City Council what they think about a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. As proposed, it would be an excise tax, paid by those who sell the beverages. It may end up back in committee for more work after the public comments come in at tonight's meeting.
The tax would not be charged to the consumers of sugary beverages, but distributors and retailers could choose to pass the tax along to their customers.
This isn’t the first time council members are hearing about this tax. The idea last came up in a series of December 2020 meetings, but the Parks, Recreation, Aquatic Health, and Safety Committee moved to table the vote in order to make amendments to the proposal after council member critique.
The new suggested amendments contain language that clarifies what sugar-sweetened beverages actually are, and raises the proposed tax to 2 cents per ounce, rather than 1 cent per ounce. The committee has also proposed clarifying how powdered sugary drinks, like Tang, will be taxed. And finally, following council member concerns about how revenue from the tax will be accounted for and applied, the committee has proposed creating an interest-bearing account for the revenue that’s reserved for Parks Committee projects. The main project the committee has earmarked is building a new community gym for intramural sports. They also hope to apply some of the revenue towards making Bethel's water safer and tastier.
Kathy Hanson, who sits on the Parks Committee, said that while her interest in the tax began as a way to support the gym, the more she’s learned about the detrimental health effects of sugar-sweetened beverages, the more that has become a driving force behind her motives.
“It's killing us with dental disease, with obesity, with diabetes. Diabetes nationwide has tripled in the last 30 years. And that's a deadly disease, heart disease. These things are caused by the intake of too much sugar,” said Hanson.
Christy Inman, the owner of Corina’s Caselot Groceries said that the tax will disproportionately affect people from villages, who wouldn’t even be able to use the very gym it’s funding. She said that the city should be focusing first on clean drinking water.
“To me it's like a form of legal theft. This isn't about health, it's about greed with a do-gooder name attached. If this was about health, we would be discussing clean and safe drinking water not only for Bethel, but for the region,” said Inman.
Inman also said that many of her customers can barely afford their groceries in the first place, and the tax would make food costs even harder on them. Hanson said that the committee hopes to buy itself more time by tabling the vote again.
Also in the April 13 city council meeting, councilmember Conrad “CJ” McCormick will introduce a resolution that would hire an independent contractor, Rachel K. Gernat, to evaluate how the city and its police force investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases.
And the Community Action Grant Technical Review Board will forward their recommended grant awardees to city council for approval. Among the recommendations are a nordic ski groomer, a wrestling mat, funds for First Fridays, and more.
To listen to the April 13 meeting, tune into KYUK at 6:30 p.m.
An earlier version of this story said the proposed tax is 2 cents on the ounce. That is incorrect, the actual current proposed amount is 1 cent on the ounce, but there's an amendment on the table to up that amount to two cents on the ounce.