City, citizens wrestle over head tax plans

Posted: Thursday, January 06, 2000

Cruise industry supporters wearing green ``Ask me, I live here'' stickers packed Juneau Assembly Chambers on Wednesday night as a lone protester slapped a red ``I live here, too!'' tag at each assembly member's seat.

The assembly work session convened to formulate a cruise ship passenger fee ordinance.

With input from the city manager, city attorney and the cruise industry, assembly members glued together a measure spelling out who will be on a projects review committee, defining who a passenger is, and touching upon how fee revenues ought to be spent.

The draft ordinance calls for a Passenger Fee Proceeds Committee that is charged with criticizing the city manager's yearly list of projects and programs to be funded by fee revenues. Committee comments, the manager's comments and his recommendations are then to be presented to the assembly for deliberation and action.

The number of people on the committee - and how much the city, industry and public ought to be represented - were matters of widely varied opinion by assembly members.

Frankie Pillifant asked about using members of the Tourism Advisory Committee, but was rebuffed by City Manager Dave Palmer, who wondered ``whether the TAC will continue in its present form.''

Cathie Munoz criticized the concept of yet another committee: ``I don't think a committee is necessary.''

Pillifant and Don Etheridge Jr. agreed with Munoz but got no other support.

A frustrated deputy mayor called for a show of hands. ``Who likes five?'' John MacKinnon asked. ``Who likes seven?''

In a letter to the assembly, the North West CruiseShip Association suggested the panel be made up of two members from the industry, two from the TAC, and one from the harbor board.

The assembly settled on a five-member proceeds committee with two industry members, a docks and harbors board member and two members of the public to be named at a later date.

Equally contentious was defining exactly who a ``passenger'' is, with a clearly vexed Dwight Perkins asking - after some debate - that ``is'' be defined.

When Ken Koelsch asked ``What about the deceased? Are you gonna charge them $5?'', Perkins replied: ``We'll collect when we get 'em to the hospital.''

The assembly settled on targeting paying passengers, as opposed to ``nonrevenue'' passengers such as crew and other employees.

Tom Garrett introduced an amendment granting ship passengers starting or ending their trip in Juneau one night's freedom from the city's bed tax if they stay at a Juneau hotel. The measure, which was tentatively accepted, was meant to provide relief to passengers on small ships that are still not small enough to be exempted from the fee by the initiative's dictates, he said.

City Attorney John Corso cautioned that a related measure proposing a study of cruise ship passenger impacts on the city be kept as vague as possible, since ``a study such as this would be plaintiff's (the cruise industry's) Exhibit A for a motion for summary judgment.''

Corso also warned that plans for spending the money be kept as ``close to the ship'' as possible, so as to keep industry lawyers bent on litigation at bay.

``Some argue the fees are only for docks and some argue the fees are only for general purposes,'' and both are incorrect, he said.

But in terms of spending, ``the closer to the ship - not as geography, but as a function - the safer we are,'' Corso said.

The ordinance will be presented for public hearing at the assembly's next meeting on Jan. 24.

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