Assembly may curb authority of Docks and Harbors Board

Posted: Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The city would control every dollar of purchases by the Docks and Harbors Board and Department down to a bag of nails, according to an ordinance that the Juneau Assembly introduced Monday night.

The Assembly referred the ordinance to the Committee of the Whole without comment.

Meanwhile Docks and Harbors officials are analyzing the ordinance to gauge its effects on the department.

Port Director John Stone said the most significant impact of the ordinance is the "apparent reduction" of his authority.

Specifically, that reduction in authority would require the department to purchase all goods and services through the city's department of finance. The change means the Docks and Harbors Department would have to pay a fee for the purchasing service from the city, Stone said. The department now purchases its own goods and services. Purchases of more than $100,000 are subject to Assembly approval. The department spends $5 to 10 million a year in capital improvements and operational expense purchases, he said.

"We're doing it ourself in a more efficient manner," Stone said. "It doesn't make much sense to us."

But City Manager Rod Swope said the changes establish "consistency" and "uniformity" among all of the city's enterprise boards. Docks and Harbors was the lone board exempt from the requirement that goods and services be purchased through the finance department, Swope said.

Further, the ordinance would eliminate the department's ability to collect port dues used for dock and port facility improvements. Dues are paid by vessels carrying paying passengers that use port facilities. The collection of dues has ended due to a sunset clause.

The collection of port dues expired on Dec. 31, 2001, because the city put all waterfront-related construction on hold until the waterfront master plan was adopted, Stone said. But the language of the ordinance was intact if the Docks and Harbors Department chose to collect dues for future projects, Stone said.

Prior to 2001, the department was collecting about $1 million a year in dues. That money paid for the Steamship Wharf and Cruiseship Terminal, Stone said.

The docks and harbors board has the authority to re-institute port dues, city attorney John Hartle said.

In addition to eliminating the mechanism for collecting port dues, the ordinance would eliminate the Port Advisory Committee that has expired. That committee was designed to make recommendations to the Assembly on port dues rates.

Swope said that committee would essentially be replaced by the city's new Waterfront Development Committee, which is working on the Waterfront Development Master Plan.

Another clause of the proposed ordinance strikes language that allows the Docks and Harbors Board to propose capital improvement projects and apply for funding from state and federal agencies. New language requires the board to advise the Assembly of its recommendations by November 30 of each year for capital improvements to be included in a six-year capital improvement plan prepared by the city manager.

Stone called the ordinance language change, "potentially troublesome," because the department secures millions of dollars in state and federal funding.

The department secured more than $12.5 million in the last year in state and federal funding for improvements to various city harbors, Stone said.

The Docks and Harbors Board is expected to meet alone and with the Assembly at a later date to discuss the changes, he said.

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