Riverton again passes resolution calling for a hike in beer tax to fund alcohol treatment programs

By Ernie Over, managing editor, County10.com

(Riverton, Wyo.) – A resolution that went down in flames at last year’s Wyoming Association of Municipalities annual meeting calling for an increased tax on beer to provide treatment options, was approved Tuesday night by the Riverton City Council. Only this time the resolution was reworded to indicate alcohol abuse is a statewide concern and not just Fremont County.

The resolution calls on the legislature to raise the beer tax from the present two cents a gallon, which has been unchanged since 1935, to the national average of 28 cents per gallon. The revenues would be directed to alcohol treatment programs.

The five members of the  Riverton City Council who were present at Tuesday night's meeting were joined by Richard Gard on the phone. Todd Smith was absent.

The five members of the Riverton City Council who were present at Tuesday night’s meeting were joined by Richard Gard on the phone. Todd Smith was absent.

City Administrator Steven Weaver said he was at the back of the room when Mayor Ron Warpness made the presentation on the resolution last year, and Weaver said he heard whispers that it was only a Riverton problem. “We definitely have a problem, but other counties to do,” he said. “Campbell County, for instance, is #1 in the number of alcohol related arrests per 100,000 in population.” He also noted that significant alcohol problems have been noted in Washakie, Sweetwater and Natrona counties. “We need WAM to push this in the legislature and have money to support resolving the problems that alcohol creates.”

Council member Lars Baker made the motion to approve the resolution and Eric Heiser provided the second.

In discussion, Baker said he was very disappointed with coverage of the issue in the daily Casper newspaper “that sounded like it was the City of Riverton’s goal to get money for the alcohol crisis center. But the crisis center does not address alcohol abuse problems, we need to go beyond that,” he said.

Baker is the council’s liaison with the crisis detox center.

“In our discussions with Volunteers of America, they provide alcohol crisis intervention. They have people in Sheridan who come to them with a problem and they are immediately transitioned into treatment, it’s not a bed and breakfast like it is here.” Baker noted that the detox center serves a good purpose here, keeping people safe and off of the streets, but he said more treatment and support is needed.

The local detox center is in negotiations to merge with the VOA program so additional treatment could be offered locally.

“The idea that alcohol abuse is limited to Riverton is ridiculous,” Baker said. “It is a widespread problem. I don’t see this resolution is going to raise the price of alcohol to where  no one can drink it.”

The motion to approve the resolution was passed on a 5 to 1 vote, with Mary Ellen Christensen the lone dissenting voice.