Boards say fish tax should go to harbors
November 15, 2018
Two borough advisory boards have recommended to the assembly that the raw fish tax revenue go directly into the harbor enterprise fund instead of the general fund.
“Generally, the fishermen have to fight for their funds and I think the angst is that they bring in all this extra revenue and it’s deposited into the general fund and they have to justify wanting more money,” Tourism Advisory Board chair Barbara Mulford said during a Tuesday meeting.
TAB board member Diana Lapham said the issue is a sore subject for fishermen. “They pay tax on every fish that comes across the railing,” Lapham said. “To have it go right into the general fund, and they have to ask for it, yeah it’s real sore topic.”
Lapham, also a member of the Port and Harbor Advisory Board, said the board last month made the same recommendation to transfer all of the raw fish tax into the harbor budget.
Board member Lori Smith asked if they were making the recommendation because the harbor lacks funding. Lapham told Smith that Haines was one of only two Southeast communities that doesn’t allocate 100 percent of its raw fish tax revenue to their harbor enterprise fund.
Among Southeast communities, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the Petersburg Borough and the City of Craig allocate their raw fish tax revenue into their general funds. Wrangell, Sitka and Juneau allocate all their fish tax revenue into their harbor funds.
The state tax is levied against fish processors, and the processors pass a portion of the tax onto the fishermen. The state gives half of the tax revenue collected from fish processors back to municipalities that are impacted by the effects of fish processing that occurs within its boundaries, according to state statue.
The Haines Borough received $352,884 in raw fish tax from the state this fiscal year—$110,000 of which was transferred to the harbor. The revenue changes each year. Two years ago, the borough received, $121,208.
Commercial fisherman John Hagen told the CVN he uses the harbor, but he also drives a large vehicle that likely impacts borough roads. “I’d love to see [the money] go to the harbor, but I also live in this community so if that money stays in the general fund it benefits me in different ways,” Hagen said.
City of Ketchikan port and harbors director Steve Corporon said that about nine years ago the tax revenues went into the city’s general fund until their port and harbor advisory board successfully lobbied the city council to direct it into the harbors. About four years ago, the city council decided $100,000 of the fish tax revenue should subsidize the city’s water utility service, since the area fish processors and fishermen used a disproportionate amount of city water. Now the city directs 25 percent of the tax revenue to the water utility, and the rest goes into the city’s harbor fund.
Corporon, a past president and current board member of the Alaska Association of Harbor Masters and Port Administrators, said communities are largely split equally in terms of whether their harbors, general funds or some combination thereof receive the tax revenue.
“It’s usually one of the things people ask around the room: Whose harbors get the fish tax?” Corporon said of the annual state association meetings. “It usually comes out a third, a third, a third.”