This is in response to resident comments made during the Thursday, Feb. 4 Ketchikan City Council meeting on two topics: Implementing the approved 2019-2021 wharfage fee and formation of the Tourism Steering Committee.

General Budget payroll is the number one expense, starting with the city clerk’s office processing council paperwork, staff payroll, council members’ time and expense attending special sessions. Rehashing litigation is not a good use of taxpayer money, especially during the current budget shortfall.

Long arduous public vetting took place with consensus which, after 14 years, port wharfage fee would increase from $7 to $9. Ordinance 19-1902 Amending Port Fees and Charges would take effect in 18 months on April 1, 2021.  The current ordinance was passed when tourism was peaking at 1.2 million visitors; ticket sales for a cruise was ‘cheap’ and concession contracts locked in for years were lucrative.  

Cruise brands needed 18 months to adjust future ticket prices. No one could predict what would follow in 2020 as customers were given credits (placed in escrow) for future departures. Ordinance 19-1902 can easily take effect with first arrivals in 2022. However, the $9 wharfage fee should apply to small boutique ships sailing in 2021 as they were given proper notice of increase. The Port Enterprise Fund will have expenses in 2021 when handling vessels and passengers.

What are the residents asking of council — wharfage fee ‘needs to go away’, ‘vote down or defer action’? Spoiler alert: a well-written ordinance approved by majority cannot be revisited just to suit self-serving interests and not the greater good.

Expect nationwide businesses and governments imposing cost of living increases to recover losses. If tourists have discretionary funds to travel they should expect higher prices as the five- to 10-year recovery projects increases will occur with discount incentives.

Council should put Impact Fee on the agenda as expenses for KPU utility and upland infrastructure projects still need approval; an ideal topic for Tourism Steering Committee.    

Tourism Steering Committee Ordinance 21-1928. When I review boards and commissions establish by city and borough, its purpose is to provide checks-and-balance system by members appointed by the mayor and council.

A nonpartisan committee with accountability avoids the pitfalls of being a company town, membership entitlement, intimidation and/or exclusion of all residents.

Ordinance 21-1928 Tourism Steering Committee goals: To generate economic benefit to as many people in the community, while minimizing impacts to our environment and quality of life. It shall be composed of nine voting members appointed by the mayor with the approval of the council and shall serve without compensation. A member from City Council, Borough Assembly, non-city resident who resides in the borough, city resident, transportation operator, tour operator, member hotel-bar-restaurant operator, and two members retail merchants. (In keeping with transparency of committee’s discussions and actions…) reasonable public notice of the time, place and agenda shall be given before each meeting.

Powers and Duties of the committee shall be as follows: 1) To provide a community sounding board for tourism related issues and present those issues to the City Council. 2) To take a long-term view toward the direction of the tourism industry and toward what steps the city government should take in the future development of the tourism industry. 3) To reach out to the various tourism and non-tourism sectors in the community to get information that will be helpful to the City Council in determining future government policy towards the tourism industry.

Thursday’s comments made by the Chamber of Commerce and Ketchikan Visitor Bureau membership — “we are handling topics related to tourism” — are partially true. Resource Committee and Community Destination Practices and Protocols drew from its membership and health safety expertise, however, it was by invitation only, group size kept at 26, and left co-members and neighbors seeking updates through Facebook and meeting minutes. So I ask the directors, ‘please submit your past agendas that covered any one of the topics listed below’.

The Tourism Steering Committ needs stability in its board nonpartisan commitment to address topics of pollution: air, land and sea, impact fee, overtourism, littering, restrooms, signage, traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, impact of Ward Cove development and historic preservation that distinguishes Ketchikan from its competitor seaports rarely got beyond council and Assembly public sessions. Important issues addressed during Persons to be Heard 3-5 minute segment could be assigned to Tourism Steering Committee for review.

For non-partisanship process, applications available to everyone; the community is welcomed to bring complaints, ideas and solutions for the betterment of the community. Tourism Steering Commitment ultimately provides recommendations that council needs to make an informed decision with implementation, budget and well-written ordinances.  

My qualifications equal that of many members. But because I am an employee I have been denied an opportunity to serve on a committee. As a spokesperson for many who fear retribution — the Tourism Steering Committee gives me and residents who feel disenfranchised a chance to sit at the table.  

Stay the course Mayor Sivertsen and council members; proceed with implementing the approved wharfage fee and give the steering committee a chance it deserves. Thank you.

Mary L Stephenson is a six-year Ketchikan resident and has had a career in tourism for over 35 years.