Juneau city officials figuring out how to spend less-than-usual cruise ship tax money

Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas docks in Juneau on July 23, 2021.
Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas docks in Juneau on July 23, 2021. (Photo by Bridget Dowd / KTOO)

The number of large cruise ship passengers arriving in Juneau this summer was down about 90% from 2019, the last time the city saw a normal, non-pandemic cruise season. But the city took in per-person tax dollars for the 125,000 passengers who sailed into Juneau this year on a cruise ship, and now city officials are in the process of trying to determine how to spend those dollars. 

Juneau gets money from cruise passengers through three different fees: $5 per passenger from the state’s commercial passenger vessel fee, $3 from a port development fee and $5 from the city’s marine passenger fee.

City Manager Rorie Watt said they charge those fees because cruise ships are different from any other business in town.

“If you took that cruise ship and you said instead of a multi-thousand passenger ship, it was actually a hotel [and] the hotel was full every day of the summer and people came in and out, we would charge the hotel property tax,” Watt said. “We don’t charge the ships property tax. So we have this different process.” 

Over the course of a normal summer, Juneau sees about 1.2 million cruise ship passengers from large ships. This year, with tourism and the cruise industry still reeling from the pandemic, only about 125,000 of those passengers made it to the city.

That means revenue from passenger fees, too,  is down almost 90% from an average summer. 

Due to a court settlement with the cruise industry a few years ago, there are some limits on how that money can be spent, but Watt said it’s usually used for a mix of services and infrastructure projects.

“We open up seasonal restrooms, we hire crossing guards and we pay for visitor information services that coordinate a bunch of  volunteers,” he said. “We [also] produce maps and signage so people can find where they’re going.”

The city is asking for input from city departments and the public on how it should spend money from the marine passenger fees. That’s something they do every year.

Once people submit their ideas, Watt will draft a recommended list of projects. Then there will be a 30-day public comment period before it moves on to Juneau’s assembly for final approval. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 3. They can be sent to susan.phillips@juneau.org or the City Manager’s Office, attention Susan Phillips, 155 S. Seward Street, Juneau, Alaska 99801.

Bridget Dowd

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I keep tabs on what’s happening in Juneau’s classrooms for the families they serve and the people who work in them. My goal is to shine a light on both stories of success and the cracks that need to be filled, because I believe a good education is the basis of a strong community.

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