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City to renew push to raise state beer tax
Riverton Mayor Ron Warp-ness says revenue from a higher malt beverage tax could be used for operations at the detox center.

City to renew push to raise state beer tax

Apr 22, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness told elected county leaders April 12 that the Riverton City Council is renewing its efforts to get state lawmakers to support a sharp increase on the malt beverage tax.

At its meeting April 3, the council voted to renew its resolution in support of an increase on the tax, which has remained at 2 cents a gallon since 1935.

The city's resolution calls for raising the so-called "beer tax" to match the national average of 28 cents a gallon. The goal is to use the extra money to address alcohol abuse issues throughout Wyoming.

FCAG in support

The city is leading the charge locally after the Fremont County Association of Governments and the Fremont County Commission passed resolutions on the effort in 2011.

"The city council passed our resolution again, and we're sending it down to WAM," Warpness said, referring to the Wyoming Association of Municipalities that meets June 13 to June 16.

Efforts to get the Legislature to address the tax issue failed to gain traction earlier this year.

"It was a budget session, and it didn't make it very far," Warpness said.

Warpness cited the alcohol crisis center in Riverton when explaining the need for the increased tax.

He called the center's services a "revolving door" with the facility dealing with upward of 300 people a month. They enter the facility intoxicated and usually leave after their alcohol level dissipates, he said.

"It's obscene the way that we're dealing with it," Warpness said.

The city contributes $53,000 to the crisis center, which has "a significant unmet financial need," according to the recent resolution.

The commission contributes roughly $100,000 to the crisis center annually, Warpness said.

Tribal note

The city's resolution also notes "the Wind River Indian Reservation and tribal need and use of the center is the majority of the cost incurred, and the tribes do not pay for the support services of the Center."

The tax could help supplement budgets for similar facilities throughout the state, he added.

"It could be enough money to do us some good," he said.

Pavillion Town Council member Tauna GroomSmith, who works as an alcohol prevention specialist at Fremont Counseling, said the higher tax could raise close to $3 million.

"With prevention and treatment, budgets are being cut," GroomSmith said.

"This would definitely be helpful to the people that need it."

She said state lawmakers are indicating support for the higher beer tax.

"Over the last, probably, four months, I visited with other legislators not in Fremont County who are in support of the malt beverage tax being raised," she said.

Warpness defended a higher tax on beer sales in addressing problems with alcohol abuse.

"If that's the industry creating the problem, they're the ones that should be carrying part of the load," he said.