Anchorage searching for solutions to fight alcohol epidemic
Tuesday night the Anchorage Assembly voted down a proposed ordinance by Dick Traini that would have adopted a municipal wholesale tax on alcoholic beverages.
"What's unique about a municipal tax versus a state tax is we can actually tell where the money goes," Assemblymember Forrest Duncan said. "We can direct it. We can dedicate funds and this ballot initiative actually does that. It says it has to go to drug and alcohol treatment-- as opposed to the state tax which goes into the general fund."
The item was voted down by the Assembly 7 to 3 because the wording was too broad and did not specifically say where the money would go in terms of drug and alcohol treatments. The assembly also felt it would not be fair for one industry, the alcohol industry, to have the full burden of funding the solution all by itself.
"I really want to work with them and I hope they work with us," Assemblymember Felix Rivera said. "I want to see in the next year if we can come up with a reasonable package past and get this problem under control."
Anchorage is in dire need of more drug and alcohol programs and facilities.
"Looking at the treatment services, the mayor's office has an emphasis on building the Clitheroe Center," Homeless and housing coordinator Nancy Burke said. "It's a functioning center and it is serving people but the building is very old and needs to be updated. That's a top priority for us and we know there is a gap of about 50 beds we need right now today."
Where the money comes from to fund those immediate needs is anyone's guess. The municipality is trying is best to find the funding. On Tuesday, they finalized a legislative package which includes asking the state for $52 million to help rebuild the Clitheroe Center.
"We're talking about 240 beds between now at 2040 that we need to get built with nobody really building them," Rivera said. "We have a huge alcohol and opioid crisis in everyone's backyards. Constantly I'm getting calls, get this out of my yard, I don't want this here."
That's why assembly chair Traini felt it was time for the City of Anchorage to do something about the growing crisis.
"It's true the members in the alcohol industry are taxed at the Juneau level," Assembly chair Dick Traini said. "That disappears in a black hole called Juneau. We never see it. If you want to donate money if you want to do taxing it should be here. This is where the problems exist, not down in Juneau. Juneau will take that money and use it for any darn thing they want. It doesn't come here. We're the ones that deal with the problem here. The criminal justice system, when people get out of jail, they have an alcohol problem, they come here to Anchorage. We have to pick it up. When you look at the amount of crime caused by alcohol you've got spouse abuse, you've got child abuse, you've got DUI's, it's a problem we have to deal with, we all get the calls."
The proposed municipal alcohol tax would have raised $2.4 million to $9.0 million annually. The assembly says it expects the tax to make its way back in about a year with more transparent, clearer and specific details as to where the money will go and what will be funded.
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