Soda Tax revenue allocations for next fiscal year to be discussed in upcoming months

Enrique Lopez/Staff

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After voting last month to allocate the Measure D, or “soda tax,” revenue to schools and community organizations, Berkeley City Council and the city beverage commission will plan in the coming months how to disburse tax revenue in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

During the 2016-17 fiscal year, the soda tax raised $1.2 million in nine months. For the 2017-18 fiscal year, however, Councilmember Kriss Worthington expects the revenue to decrease.

“Ideally, the revenue will go down because people will be shifting their purchasing choices,” Worthington said. “The goal of (implementing the tax) is not to get a lot of money — it is to help people improve their health and to educate them that empty calories can lead to diabetes.”

For this fiscal year, the City Council, following recommendations of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Products Panel of Experts Commission, voted in January to allocate the soda tax revenue to Berkeley Unified School District health programs and to community organizations, with the goal of reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Francisco Defermin, manager of Urbann Turbann — a Berkeley restaurant with sodas available for purchase — said that his customers understand the increase in sugary beverage prices and that he embraces the tax as long as the revenue goes toward something beneficial for the community, such as education.

While stressing the importance of funding the school district’s supplemental programs, Mayor Tom Bates acknowledged apprehensions that the school district prioritizes administrators when allotting its city funding.

“There is some concern that the BUSD gives way too much money to administration,” said Bates. “We want to make sure that the money goes to educate our population and the dangers of a sugar diet … and the associated problems with it.”

Jezra Thompson, program supervisor for the school district’s Gardening and Cooking Program, explained that the soda tax revenue is money the curriculum desperately needs and mainly funds salaries and benefits of instructors, who are essential for facilitating the program.

“The curriculum is inclusive of nutrition and health education,” Thompson said. “The soda tax is remarkable because it means a lot for health and wellness and also a great resource for programs like ours because we don’t have consistent federal funding.”

The school district is advocating that the revenue continue to support its programs for the 2017-18 fiscal year, seeking an opportunity to make the garden-based curriculum a districtwide program, according to Thompson.

Worthington, however, said “we need to go beyond just focusing on the tax, we need to be adjusting policies relating to beverages.”

According to a recommendation sent from Worthington to the City Council, the City of Davis is already enacting policies that require fast-food restaurants to provide water or low-fat milk as a default for children’s meals, unless a customer specifically asks for a different beverage.

Bates said that this year’s $1.2 million in funding is a trial run and that he is open to the idea of changes if this fiscal year’s allocation process does not work successfully.

Further City Council discussions about fiscal year 2017-18 revenue allocations will take place in about six months, according to Worthington.

Staff writer Jennifer Wong contributed to this report.

Contact Sofia Gonzales-Platas at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sglezplatas.