Boat tax worries charter operators

City prepares alternate ordinance without the levy

Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Local charter boat operators and some Juneau Assembly members think a proposal to tax commercial boats needs more discussion than a current deadline allows.

Last week, Assembly members launched a proposal to decrease property taxes on helicopters and planes by about 60 percent based on a new tax schedule that varies by aircraft weight. They also proposed a new property tax on commercial watercraft that would vary by boat length. The changes need to be approved by the end of the month if they are to take effect next tax year.

The Assembly introduced the measure Tuesday night, but directed staff members to prepare an alternate version of the ordinance without the boat tax. They also asked for more information about the legal arguments raised by aircraft owners about tax equity.

The city began working with aircraft owners on tax issues after a Board of Equalization meeting in May when air carriers argued that city assessments were unfair and illegal.

Tom Dawson, who runs Three Eagle Charters in Juneau, said he is worried the Assembly is fast-tracking the boat tax without input from the people who will pay it. Dawson said he'd like more information about the intent of the tax and why the city decided to tax vessels.

"They simply haven't done their homework and somebody ought to be held accountable for that," he said.

David Hansen, captain of the charter boat Accessible One, said many local charters are "mom and pop" businesses and operate on tight financial margins. With uncertainty in the tourism industry, he said it is surprising the city would create a new tax.

"The people who are really going to be affected are the small operators who take 10, 12 trips a year," he said.

Assembly member Dale Anderson, a charter boat operator, stressed that the new tax wouldn't apply only to charter fishing boats, but to all commercial passenger vessels. The tax wouldn't apply to commercial fishing boats such as seiners, trollers, trawlers, longliners and gillnetters.

Assembly member Ken Koelsch said it's possible the Assembly would approve a boat tax by the end of the month, but such a move would not be practical.

"I don't think we've had enough input into it," he said. "We're on too tight a deadline to take enough testimony to come up with a real rational approach on this."

Assembly member Marc Wheeler also suggested the Assembly remove the boat tax from the ordinance.

"I don't think the boat community has been following it. In fairness, we need to give them more time to be involved in the process," he said.

The Assembly scheduled a Finance Committee meeting for noon Friday and will take comments, said committee Chairman Jim Powell. A formal public hearing is set for noon Nov. 23 at the Assembly chambers.

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