The Ketchikan City Council on Thursday approved changes to the town’s per-passenger head tax, increased the number of taxicabs permitted to operate, and approved an increase in the number of marijuana retail stores in city limits.

The council approved an amendment to city code that will allow cruise lines to prepay passenger wharfage fees, also known as the per-person head tax, and increased that tax. This year, the fee for City Dock passengers is $9 and for lightered and private dock passengers, $6. Staff recommended increasing the fees by $1.50 next year, and another $1.50 over the following two years. 

Councilmember Mark Flora questioned whether or not the city had enough information about the need for the increases.   

“We need to be competitive in the market, but we really need some substantial data of what it is that infrastructure needs to be kept up.”

Following a lengthy discussion where several ideas were suggested, Flora made a motion to raise the fee next year to $11 for City Dock passengers and $8 for lightered and private dock passengers.  For 2025, an additional $2 would be added, and rates for 2026 would be based on results from a needs assessment.

Council member Abby Bradberry said she wanted solid facts before setting future fees.

“In the future it might need to be much larger but we also have to remain competitive, and I just would like more information before throwing out these different numbers than what we had presented to us before.

The amended rate change was approved 5 – 2 with Bradberry and Councilmember Jai Mahtani voting against.

Also Thursday night the council doubled the number of retail marijuana stores allowed with city limits from two to four. Tax revenue from the shops is below budget projections and city staff asked for more shops to bring in more money. 

Eric Reimer owner of the marijuana store Stoney Moose, disagreed. He said Ketchikan would sell the same amount of product regardless of the number of shops. He said more shops would result in less tax revenue because prices would go down. He gave an example of a sale of 1,000 units a day.

“So if I change that price from $5 to $4, that’s $4,000 of tax revenue that you’re collecting on a day’s sales. That’s a 20 percent decrease. So I decrease my prices, everyone decreases their prices to stay competitive with each other, but the overall volume of cannabis is going to remain the same.”

City Manager Delilah Walsh agreed with Reimer that the market in Ketchikan is limited.

“We are not Colorado or New Mexico where you are surrounded by non-marijuana states so you have more than just your citizens coming in to purchase. We don’t really have that. It’s our own residents who are purchasing. Because you can’t take it on the ships. It’s going to be our own people.”

Councilmember Riley Gass said while it likely won’t increase revenue, he supports a free market.

“I just don’t like the idea of us saying, ‘Nope. We’re not going to give out any more permits.’ I think the people in the industry are the ones best fit to find out for themselves. So in the name of less regulation, more capitalism, I’m in favor of this.”

The council voted 5 – 2 in favor of allowing two more marijuana shops in the city with Councilmembers Jack Finnegan and Janalee Gage voting against.

The council also voted in favor of allowing Yellow Taxi to add seven more cabs to its fleet to keep up with summer demand. Owner John Flora told the council that all 15 cabs would not be operating at the same time since some will be down for repairs and it is difficult to find drivers. The council voted 5 -1 to allow the additional permits with Bradberry voting against and Mark Flora abstaining since he is related to the applicant.

Also on Thursday the council reversed its previous decision and voted to move a controversial book about sex and relationships from the teen section to the adult section of the public library. Will have more on that story tomorrow.

Disclosure: Jai Mahtani is a member of KRBD’s volunteer board of directors which does not direct the newsroom.