It was with a sense of irony that I read in last Thursday's Empire that the Assembly Finance Committee's plan to levy a property tax on boats is based on a belief that somehow boat owners are being subsidized by the rest of the taxpaying public.
Docks and Harbors is one of the few enterprise funds in the city. Enterprise funds must acquire their operating revenues from the fees they charge for their goods and services. This requirement to be self-supporting was the justification for raising moorage rates more than 250 percent over the next five years and making Juneau the most expensive harbor in Southeast Alaska. For some harbor users, moorage in Juneau costs more than moorage with greater amenities would cost in most of British Columbia and several marinas in Seattle.
Yet somehow boat owners are being subsidized. Like Eaglecrest Ski Area which has for decades been subsidized by nonskiing taxpayers and apparently will continue to be subsidized for decades to come? Like the city would have had us subsidize their ill-fated aquatic center? Like we subsidize sea walks and a whole slew of other things designed mostly to benefit people who don't even live here?
It seems to me that if the city really feels it is necessary to find additional sources of income during these times of property tax surpluses, it should look first to the activities that really are being subsidized. Why not make Eaglecrest an enterprise fund? Could it be that the city doesn't want to have to raise lift-ticket prices 250 percent or more to cover the expense, but apparently it's OK to do that to boaters. Instead of paying 80 percent of the cost of building a sea walk for cruise ship passengers, why not let the businesses that cater to them and who will benefit from the sea walk pay for it?
And if the city truly thinks it is spending too much on boaters, why doesn't it stop setting itself up as a marina monopoly? The city's willingness to pay twice the assessed value for properties, such as Deharts, stifles private investment and ends up costing all of us more than it should from lost efficiency, forgone business taxes, and the absence of healthy price competition. The city shouldn't punish boaters for poor decisions it has made with little input from the boating or taxpaying public.
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