The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday (1-10-23) continued to make changes to the rules for tour vendors and commercial vehicles at Harrigan Centennial Hall. It voted to eliminate permit fees for taxis, if they’re electric – among other updates. 

In early December, the assembly voted to change the process for obtaining commercial permits at the city building that serves as the main drop off point for cruise ship passengers. The new rules required businesses to bid for vendor and outfitter spots outside the building, instead of paying a flat fee. It also created annual permit rates for commercial vehicles, like taxis and buses.

But the assembly wasn’t finished there. On Tuesday, it got rid of permit fees for electric vehicles (7-0), it changed the permit duration for vendors and outfitters from one to three years (5-2), and it shifted the bidding process from sealed to an “outcry” auction (6-1). 

But there was one proposal that the assembly rejected. It was a measure to increase the newly established permit fee for vehicles with 30 or more passengers from $1000 to $2000. Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal owner Chris McGraw said the assembly should hold off on the increase until the city does more research to figure out the financial impact the bus traffic has on city infrastructure.

“Leave it at $1,000. That’s already more than anybody was anticipating this year, we’ve had to set our prices to the cruise lines, the other two operators that are going to be impacted by this fee also have already set their pricing,” McGraw said. “So we’re not going to be able to increase prices to recoup these fees. So keep it at $1000, do an actual financial analysis to determine what it costs. And then if fees have to be adjusted, adjust the fees. I’m happy to pay for the impact that I have dropping people off here.”

“Equity is always a tricky thing. You know, because equity comes in all sorts of different guises. And I think people have different opinions what that actually looks like, and I think we’re kind of there on this one,” said assembly member Tim Pike who noted that at $1000, larger vehicles would end up paying a lower rate per passenger than smaller vehicles, like taxis.

“So do we increase the larger ones to match the lower ones?” Pike asked. “What’s not on the table is to lower everybody down below where they were based upon what the bigger one was.”

Pike said he’d support the fee increase for vehicles with 30 or more passengers. But Assembly Member Kevin Mosher said he was firmly against the hike and said they should review it at the end of the next tour season. 

“These buses are bringing people hence, you know, paying customers and tax dollars into town,” Mosher said. “We were helping pay to bring them couple years ago,” he added. “The $1,000 is enough. I think doubling is a little excessive.” 

Ultimately the measure to increase the bus fee failed on a 3-4 vote with assembly members Mosher, Crystal Duncan, Chris Ystad and Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz voting against it.