Airport asks for $300,000 piece of cruise tax

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008

After missing out on eight years of head tax collected on cruise ship passengers, the Juneau International Airport wants its share of the pie.

Airport Manager Dave Palmer sent a request to Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and City Manager Rod Swope asking for $312,000 from a Cruise Ship Passenger Fees reserve that Palmer said is growing. He said the airport has been left off the beneficiary list since the city ordinance to collect the fees was adopted in 2000.

"The airport plays a critical role in the cruise and tour industry here, but we've failed to consider applying passenger fee funds to the airport," he said.

Swope already prepared his list of 17 projects to recommend for Juneau Assembly approval in May. It includes $1.5 million for the new downtown parking garage and transit center. At $5 per passenger, the city estimates it will receive $5.12 million in head tax for the 2008 season.

It's possible the airport could be granted its wish, but Swope said the request would have to be based in security and transportation costs, as well as relate to Juneau's cruise industry.

Swope said more work had to be done before he could comment on the request.

Palmer acknowledged that his request was made late in the budget process and said he didn't expect the city to approve money in the 2008-09 budget year.

The money in the "so-called" reserve, which holds an estimated $10 million, is accounted for by other projects, Swope said. Some of those projects might not happen, such as a $200,000 ramp project that was canceled, he said.

"It's one example and could be redirected," Swope said.

Palmer said his formula was simple and that he tried not to get carried away with the request. Nearly 22,000 cruise passengers board planes in Juneau each year. They represent 5 percent of the 400,000 total passengers that board planes in Juneau annually, he said. Palmer asked for 5 percent of the $4.8 million 2009 airport budget, which is $240,000 for "impacts and costs attributed to services and facilities."

Palmer said that back in 2000 when the ordinance was passed, nobody in city government thought to include the airport on the list. Palmer was city manager at the time.

The annual money sought would be increased by one-time reimbursements of $52,000, 70 percent of the cost to build U.S. Customs and Border Patrol offices and $20,000 for repairs to Temsco Road.

Wednesday night, Palmer told the Airport Board he had a preliminary nod on the "concept" of the request from Assembly member Merrill Sanford and encouraged board members to lobby the Assembly. There has been no other feedback from the Assembly, he said.

Andrew Green, Juneau port manager for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, said he couldn't comment on the request because the cruise industry did not have a stance on the request.

Several of the projects on Swope's list are inappropriate, Green said. "Like the parking garage," he said.

• Contact reporter Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or e-mail

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