In a joint meeting last week, the Haines Borough’s Ports and Harbors Advisory Committee and Tourism Advisory Board recommended tabling until March discussion of increasing docking and moorage rates for the Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry, a private shuttle that primarily brings passengers to town from cruise ships in Skagway.
At the same meeting, the groups recommended slightly raising rates for water sales and dockage for cruise ships at the Port Chilkoot Dock.
Chilkat Guides president Bart Henderson, part owner of the shuttle and a member of the port group, characterized shuttle finances as marginal.
As cruise companies are not allowing any increases in tour ticket prices, any hike would come out of the boat’s bottom line and possibly jeopardize the service that brings cruise passengers to town for his and several other tours.
“To make a significant difference in the (cruise ship dock) enterprise fund from the fast ferry is not realistic. It’ll go away. You’ll kill it,” Henderson said.
The shuttle pays $360 per month for moorage plus $20 for each tie-up at the dock’s lightering float, a rate that brought in $10,000 to the borough last summer. The special rate was negotiated for the company about six years ago by then-manager Tom Bolen.
It compares to an advertised rate for use of the lightering float at $250 per day.
Henderson said a rate increase might make him move his dockings to the boat harbor, although harbormaster Phil Benner said after the meeting that there’s not room for such an operation there.
A catamaran business currently operates out of the harbor, but it departs daily at 6 a.m. and doesn’t return until 8 p.m., he said.
The Haines Borough has taken up dock rates as part of an examination of enterprise funds. Such funds are expected to pay the costs of facilities or services through user fees.
Currently, the cruise dock doesn’t meet even its cash expenses, said manager Mark Earnest. According to its budget, the borough pays $65,756 annually to operate the dock and it brings in $57,450 in revenues, an $8,306 loss that doesn’t include $216,500 in annual depreciation.
The state’s cruise ship head tax, which is paid to the borough, covers about $32,000 in Port Chilkoot Dock expenses, including security, flowers, and janitorial services.
The lightering float sees about twice as many passengers as the dock’s main face and requires proportionately more maintenance, Benner said this week.
Unless the assembly chooses to act otherwise, the committee’s recommendation will stand, Mayor Stephanie Scott said after the meeting. Scott said not raising fees as costs increase amounts to a subsidy. “By not raising the rate at the lightering float we’re providing a subsidy. I’m resisting a full subsidy.”
Under Thursday’s recommendation, dockage for large cruise ships would increase by a rate of 25 cents per foot each year for five years. The hike would increase the amounts large cruise ships pay to tie up at the dock by $195 per year, from $2,340 per visit in 2012 to $3,315 per visit in 2017.
Haines cruise ship dockage rates are among the lowest in Southeast and compare to ones of $13,470 in Skagway, $16,276 in Juneau and $3,500 in Wrangell. “This is not going to be a big issue (for cruise companies),” said Haines tourism director Tanya Carlson.
In recent talks aimed at enticin companies to bring ships to Haines, a one-year forgiveness of dockage fees has not been much of a bargaining chip, Carlson said. “They said, ‘That’s very nice of you, but that’s not a big deal’ because we’re so low compared to everyone else.”
Assemblywoman Debra Schnabel attended the meeting and asked why dockage rates weren’t being set to meet expenses. If the borough wanted to make agreements with individual companies that discounted those rates, it still could, she said.