City says no to funds for private cruise docks

Posted: Friday, June 06, 2008

Juneau Assembly members voted down a proposal Thursday to use public funding to improve the three private docks cruise ships use near downtown.

Managers of the private docks had asked the city to support putting more than $1 million into the improvements. They said the money collected through the marine passenger fee, or the $5 per passenger "head tax" cruise lines pay the city into improvement projects, should be used. The two other docks downtown used by cruise ships are publicly owned.

At Thursday's city Finance Committee meeting, representatives of the cruise line industry said putting the money toward sprucing up the private docks would be good for both passengers and members of the public.

And private-public partnerships "is certainly something that the city does," said Don Habeger, a regional vice president of government relations for Royal Caribbean Cruises. He pointed to the city's efforts to work with Alaska Electric Light & Power Co., the privately owned electric utility, during the city's recent energy crisis.

The list of requested improvements was broken down into short- and long-term requests. The short-term list included $18,000 for restroom cleaning and landscaping maintenance, $38,112 for bomb-detecting equipment, $19,000 for bear-proof trash cans and $25,000 for a windscreen "to prevent wind and rain from blowing under" a covered walkway.

The long-term list included $252,000 for a waste-water line and $300,000 for a handicap-accessible gangway.

Since city voters approved the head tax in 1999, the city has collected more than $29 million from cruise lines, according to the city's Finance Department. Last year, it collected almost $5 million.

City Manager Rod Swope said federal regulations limit how the city can spend the revenues of the marine passenger fees to projects that will benefit how cruises operate in Juneau. He said the city has never spent the head tax money on private docks in the past.

"That's why this is an unusual request," Swope said.

The Finance Committee voted 4-2 against the proposal, citing concerns that city money should not be used to maintain privately held facilities that are off-limits to the public.

But Assembly members did indicate they were willing to look at funding some of the proposals again, as long as the benefit to the public could be clearly identified.

"If I'm walking down the street and I have to potty, and I could - I'm willing to dump that kind of money into (a restroom on a private dock) to keep it clean and to keep it healthy for all of our citizens. All of us, not just one segment of the other. So if you can show us that's what you're doing then that's fine by me," Assembly member Merrill Sanford said.

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