Sitka’s privately owned cruise ship dock, Halibut Point Marine, is six miles out of town, so if passengers want to come downtown, there are shuttle buses. And for the past six years, the city has subsidized those shuttle trips using cruise passenger fee revenue.
The contract between the city and the tour bus operator expires this year.
Alaska Coach Tours is the current contractor. Since 2016, its been paid $150,000 per year supplement for the shuttles – originally about a buck a passenger. Chris McGraw, owner of the cruise ship terminal, told the Sitka Assembly that he’s seeing is more tourists come to port every year.
“Passenger counts in 2013 were about 15,000 passengers and in 2021 we’ll be looking at about 240,000 passengers,” he said.
That’s why the city is proposing raising the amount in the new contract to $204,000 next year. It’ll increase to $257,000 in FY22.
That formula is based on the capacity of visiting cruise ships. Not the actual volume of bus passengers. That concerned assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz.
“If no one happens to get off that boat in one day, we’re still paying the same amount, whether the services are utilized or not,” he said. “I wish I had a business like that where even if I didn’t provide services I’d still get paid for it.”
Eisenbeisz also suggested the city work in the cost of street maintenance from the wear-and-tear of bus traffic in town.
Member Kevin Knox raised concerns of his own: environmental impact from the diesel buses.
“We need to be able to bring people into our downtown to support our local businesses here,” he said, “but we also need to mitigate the impact that buses have.”
“A lot of the buses, they’re somewhat modern, but they’re not really modern,” he continued. “They do emit quite a bit of exhaust. And that is a concern for a lot of people in this community.”
And member Richard Wein said commercial passenger fee revenue should be invested in visitors and residents more equally. He used phase 6 of the Sitka Cross Trail project as an example.
“$50,000 of that is coming from CPET– the trail work. You have to remember our seawalk came from CPET funds,” he said. “We can re-purpose- if we can use it for the seawalk and for these other things, why can’t we use it to help develop downtown.”
His was the lone vote cast against moving forward with the RFP process. The bus contract is being put out to bid.
In other business, the Sitka Assembly:
- Approved, on second reading, $117,000 to hire a lobbyist in Washington D.C. and $20,000 to contract out work at the understaffed city HR department
- Unanimously approved a hire offer for Larry Reeder to fill the vacant assessor position at city hall.
- On second and final reading, it approved $142,000 in funding for phase six of the Sitka Cross Trail- money that was raised by Sitka Trail Works and will be doled out by the city.
- It approved a letter of support for Leo’s Hope
- On second and final reading, the assembly unanimously approved an ordinance to fix clerical inaccuracies in a section of the Sitka General Code.
- It unanimously approved an amendment to the Payment for Services Agreement between the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the City and Borough of Sitka- to add in the new administration building Sitka Tribe of Alaska recently purchased at 204 Siginaka Way
- It considered which assembly member to send to the Seatrade Cruise Global event in Miami, Florida, ultimately deciding on sending member Valorie Nelson
- The assembly discussed adding select staff back to the assembly@cityofsitka email address- in March the assembly voted to remove all staff from the recipient list. The measure failed 3-4 with assembly members Mosher, Wein, Nelson and Eisenbeisz voting against the motion.
- It approved liquor license renewals for House of Liquor, Longliner Lodge and Sitka Jet Center/Sitka Hotel
Editors Note: The City of Sitka publishes the audio or video of each Sitka Assembly meeting on its website: