15 percent alcohol tax supported by most Bethel voters

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The first legal alcohol sale in Bethel was in April of 2016 taxed at 12 percent. On Tuesday, unofficial election results showed close to 60 percent of the city’s voters approving an increase in the tax to 15 percent.

“Alcohol is more available and more affordable. I think just as a community member we see a lot more intoxicated people just kind of hanging around,” said Eileen Arnold, Director of the Tundra Women’s Coalition. The organization offers legal, housing, education and other services along with a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Arnold says cases of reported sexual assault have spiked over last year.

“Just the number of cases we’re responding to has risen by like 20 percent in the past year so you know our budgets have not really increased in relationship to that,” Arnold said.

The city devotes 20 percent of the revenue it collects from alcohol sales toward improving community wellness. But the general manager of the Alaska Commercial Company which operates one of the city’s two liquor stores expressed caution after Election Day.

“I guess the opportunity cost initially looks great with the increased tax revenue. If the tax percentage goes up too high the probability of someone out shopping or shopping elsewhere goes up and then potentially the overall revenue could drop,” said Walter Pickett.

Pickett says the higher the tax increases the more incentive Bethel shoppers have to avoid the tax by placing orders in Anchorage or elsewhere.

“I just caution, everybody use caution when we start looking at increasing that percentage,” Pickett said.

Bethel Native Corporation, the owner of Bethel Spirits responded with “no comment” in response to Channel Two News’s request for reaction to the alcohol tax.

The results from Tuesday’s election will be certified Oct. 10, setting Nov. 25 as the first day of the 15 percent tax.

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