SE cities take up head tax

Passenger fee goes to vote in Ketchikan while Yakutat ponders tax

Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Ketchikan voters will cast ballots on a cruise ship passenger fee within the next two and a half months. Officials in Yakutat also are considering a head tax to increase city revenues from tourism.

Both taxes would be similar to Juneau's $5-per-passenger fee, which was approved in 1999 and brought in $3.2 million last season.

Ketchikan's proposed fee also would be $5 a head, while Yakutat is looking at $1.40 per person.

Supporters of Ketchikan's fee recently completed collecting signatures on petitions, which were certified Friday by Ketchikan Gateway Borough Clerk Sue Bethel. She determined the petitions had more than the required 469 signatures of registered voters, or 15 percent of votes cast in the last regular borough election.

No date has been set, but state law requires a special election be held within 75 days.

Petition sponsor John Cote said it's time for the cruise ship industry to give something back. For example, he suggested the industry help pay for improvements to Tongass Avenue, the southern Panhandle community's main thoroughfare.

"The industry really does stretch our resources," Cote told the Ketchikan Daily News.

Ralph Mirsky, another petition sponsor, said the fee is not anti-tourism.

"We don't believe this will hurt the industry. We think it will continue to grow," Mirsky said.

Several groups, including the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau and the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, are expected to campaign against the proposal.

"We're 100 percent against this thing. It's bad for business," said Ketchikan Gateway Borough Overall Economic Development Program Committee Chairman Joe Johnson.

John Hansen, president of the North West CruiseShip Association, said his group plans to keep tabs on the proposal.

"We'll be reviewing whether there's any activity we should engage in, or if it's only a local issue for Ketchikan residents to deal with," he said.

The Yakutat passenger fee is still in the discussion phase. The northern Panhandle town's assembly is considering a $1.40-per-person fee on 75 percent of each vessel's capacity, according to the Monti Bay Times. Funds collected would go toward tourist-related projects.

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