Ketchikan’s City Council on Thursday night indefinitely postponed a bed tax increase. The council also approved a plan for implementing dock vendor leases and approved a labor agreement with local firefighters. 

Proposed was an amendment to increase the transient occupancy tax by 2%.  If passed, the tax would have increased from 7% to 9%. The last increase was in April 2004. 

Hotel owner Terry Wanzer spoke in opposition, saying that the increase was unnecessary.  

“We as hoteliers, in my business, negotiate many, many rates with lodges and companies that pay per diem. And every dollar counts. Room rates would have to increase in a down market. There’s no need to increase tax, for it is automatic. The higher the room rate, the more the tax is. It increases by volume.”

Wanzer also said it is unfair to target a single industry. He said with high interest rates, inflation and increased costs, now is not the time to increase taxes.

The amendment also would have updated the city’s timelines and methods of service to match the Borough’s ordinance for sales tax.

The council unanimously approved an amendment splitting the motion in two – the tax rate hike and a language change to match the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s ordinance. That language change passed unanimously, and the council voted to postpone the tax increase indefinitely.

Regarding dock vendor leases, City Manager Delilah Walsh recommended one-year leases with no changes in the bid request process for the 2023 season. Some changes were recommended for vendors when they are communicating with the public. It replaced “normal speaking volume” to “without shouting or the use of voice amplification” when communicating with passersby, and clarified that employees cannot pitch sales to people outside the booth’s six-foot lease perimeter. The city council supported the changes. 

One issue the council discussed was allowing dock vendor booth holders to solicit tours for other operators who do not have a lease.  Walsh said this is not allowed under Borough code, however nothing prohibits a vendor from directing customers to other booths.

“There’s absolutely nothing prohibiting me from saying, ‘Hey, you can go to so and so and KVB (Ketchikan Visitors Bureau)” or “You can walk over to booth number 2 down the road.’ Or ‘You can go to Berth 3 or Berth 4 where there are other booths leased.’ There’s nothing prohibiting you from referring to another customer. What’s’ prohibited is if you have two businesses operating under one lease. That’s under code. It’s not the port director’s opinion. It’s not my opinion. We’re trying to be compliant with our own laws.”

During discussion, Walsh clarified that booth holders may greet visitors when they are outside their booth area, but can’t make sales pitches until potential customers are within the six-foot perimeter.

Council Member Abby Bradberry proposed amending contracts to allow booth holders to sell tours to a maximum of two other businesses. The council unanimously approved the change.

Also Thursday night, the council approved a new contract with the local firefighters union, International Association of Firefighters, Local 2761. The previous contract expired in December 2021. Under the terms of the new agreement, pay grade tables are modified with represented employees receiving a retroactive 2% pay increase in 2022, 2.5% in 2023, and a 4% increase in 2024.  There are also changes in group insurance benefits and one additional floating holiday per year. The estimated cost for the 3-year contract is $538,000.  

The council also approved a $186,000 humanitarian services grant funded by the 5% marijuana sales tax. The grant supports homeless services.

Mayor Dave Kiffer and council member Janalee Gage were absent from the city council meeting. Vice-mayor Mark Flora presided.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for February 6.