Absentees push Haines tourist tax over the top

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

HAINES (AP) -- Voters in the Haines Borough have narrowly approved a new 4 percent taxes on tours and lodging, but only after absentee votes were counted this week. A bed tax was also approved in the April 18 election.

The tour tax trailed by a razor-thin 410-409 votes in the initial count. But after absentee and questioned ballots were counted Tuesday, the measure passed 465-453, according to borough clerk Jacki Lawson.

Meanwhile, the margin widened for the yes vote on the bed tax, which was approved 475-440. The initial count was 416-401 in favor.

''It shows that the community is still divided in half,'' said Borough Mayor Jerry Lapp. ''We'll work it out from here. We have to.''

Cruise lines are under attack over pollution issues, crowding in port towns, and accusations that they take a hefty commission for local tours sold on board the ships.

Debra Schnabel, a resort owner and former borough assemblywoman, noted the $50 state head tax on cruise passengers recently proposed by state Senate President Drue Pearce, R-Anchorage, and an initiative in Miami to pass a head tax.

''There is a call for the cruise industry as a whole to come to the table in communities all over the United States,'' said Schnabel. ''They've made a lot of decisions in isolation.''

Tour operator Bart Henderson said that while cruise companies might feel compelled to continue doing substantial business in Juneau despite last fall's vote for a head tax, Haines isn't a must-have stop.

Although cruise lines won't be taxed directly, they might make less in commissions for on-board sales when local tour operators add the 4 percent tax to their prices. That could be an incentive to stay longer in Skagway and skip the Haines stop, Henderson said.

The April 18 election was a rerun from last fall, when the taxes were approved in a slightly different form only to be set aside for technical reasons. In the October election, voters also approved an advisory measure favoring a limit on cruise ship traffic to the year 2000 level.

Lapp said he recently wrote a conciliatory letter to the cruise lines to counter a perception that Haines wasn't welcoming them. ''I was basically telling them not everybody is against you.''

In Ketchikan, Kris Geldaker, vice president of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, said the new taxes will be taken into account when cruise companies decide their schedules.

''I guess the interpretation may be that the community of Haines may not be as receptive to the cruise ships as they were 10 years ago, when they were asking for them,'' Geldaker said. ''It's disheartening. On the positive side, there's some lead time.''

The tour tax goes into effect Jan. 1, 2001.

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