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How to spend passenger fees?

City's options include open space, flightseeing, harbors, trails and more

Posted: Monday, March 04, 2002

An annual puzzle that involves open space, harbors, trails, flightseeing, rest rooms and crossing guards is before city officials. When completed, it will show how more than $3 million in cruise ship passenger fee revenues will be spent this year.

Juneau voters approved a $5 fee or "head tax" on cruise ship passengers in 1999. By ordinance, the city is required use the proceeds "to address the impacts caused by the marine passenger ship industry."

Juneau Assembly members got their first chance to look at the interlocking pieces at a Planning and Policy Committee meeting last week.

Under a rough proposal offered by Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch, infrastructure and quiet technology to reduce flightseeing noise and a Steamship Wharf-Marine Park redesign would get $750,000 apiece. Koelsch's plan is based on $3.4 million in proceeds.

"It's in a very rough form, but what it does is focus the funding toward the impacts," he said.

Work on the city's long-range tourism plan this winter pointed toward a need to address helicopter and flightseeing noise, along with congestion around the Marine Park Garage, Koelsch said.

"It may take us a couple of years of funding for some of these," he said.

The proposal also calls for spending $300,000 on Princess Cruises' shoreside power project, $140,000 for new rest rooms, $103,000 to give larger vehicles more room in the downtown turnaround and $250,000 for open space acquisition.

Koelsch's plan realigns elements of a proposal from the city's cruise ship passenger fee committee. City Manager Dave Palmer worked with the panel to put together this year's list of suggestions. The city expects the same amount of revenue this year as last year, he said.

"A couple of new ships are scheduled toward Juneau," he said. "The latest we're hearing is that bookings are reviving. It seems to be the feeling that we'll see the same number of passengers in Juneau as we have in the past and we're budgeting with that expectation."

The committee didn't prioritize its recommendations, according to committee member Don Habeger, manager of the Juneau office of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska. Historically, many of the committee's recommendations are left untouched, Habeger said.

"Surprisingly, over time, the changes are not that great," he said. "Twenty percent will change while 80 percent typically stay unchanged."

In one early difference, the committee suggests spending $1 million on a commercial loading facility at the Auke Bay harbor. Koelsch's plan would turn the item over to the Assembly's Public Works and Facilities Committee for more discussion.

During last week's discussion, Assembly member Marc Wheeler said he was concerned the city would spend passenger fees to "deck over" part of the Steamship Wharf-Marine Park area. The project should be funded with port dues, he said later.

"I don't think we should monkey around with the formula we've been using," he said. "The list that the passenger fee committee put together was a really good starting point. The places we made past commitments should be a priority. I don't want to see those commitments drop."

Assembly member Dale Anderson said the Steamship Wharf project addresses congestion and enlarges Marine Park. The area is now a "sore spot," he said.

Other funding possibilities from both lists include the city museum, crossing guards, dock security, the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, Capital Transit, the Local Emergency Planning Committee, park rangers, trails and the city's tourism office.

Planning and Policy Committee members plan to discuss passenger fee proceeds again, with an outline going to the Finance Committee for additional review.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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