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Debate Continues on Raising Alcohol Tax in Minnehaha County

photo by Rick Knobe

When a crime occurs, the county of infraction is deeply committed for the course of events thereafter. 1) If the infraction is serious enough, the perpetrator goes to the county jail. 2) If the defendant doesn’t have the means to hire a lawyer, the county must provide one. 3) Should the case go to trial, the county pays for adjudicating the incident. That’s also the corresponding investigative measures.

Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth says 55 percent of the county’s budget is used for crime. It means property taxes are the main lever to pull when the county is short on funds. Eventually, a bigger jail will be necessary. “The current jail is full. Whether or not your car has been broken into, you are going to be paying extra when we build a $10-18 million expansion on our jail.”

Softening that blow would be allowing counties to collect taxes on the sale of alcohol. Barth says most inmates have substance abuse problems. “In the penitentiary, 80 percent of the people have a drug or alcohol problem and 59 percent of them have primarily an alcohol problem.”

Barth says by levying the tax on alcohol, it would basically get a portion of the necessary funding up front by the abusers who end up in the judicial system. “They’ve got no money for a lawyer or fines. All they’ve got money for is the next trip to the bar. I think we’ve got to get them before they run out of money at the bar and let’s raise the sales tax on alcohol.”


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