Open Letter to the CBJ Assembly from Tom Boutin - Juneau

    If you commit to spending up to $8 million to erect a tram at Eaglecrest please first determine that it will not take dollars away from what cruise ship tourists would have otherwise spent anyway, and that it won’t serve to prevent tourists from doing other activities during a very finite stay while their ship is in port.   Spending tax money to add a tourist destination would make even less sense if doing so would reduce sales revenue in the private sector.   If the market for a tram ride is the same market that Juneau taps for whale watching, dog sledding at the glacier, flying to the Taku Lodge for dinner, and riding in a helicopter then I must question the appropriateness of taxing the private sector in order to compete with it!   Moreover, if a ride up to Eaglecrest and then a ride up a gondola tram takes people out of the stores and restaurants where they would be paying sales taxes then please put that arithmetic in your evaluation.

    In determining whether a tram would add to total Juneau tourism sales rather than merely switch some dollars from the private sector to a municipally-owned enterprise should be done in a more methodical and accepted way than taking numbers out of the air.   I do not know anything about tourism price and demand elasticity but you need to know that before committing millions of dollars to that industry.   Becoming a large player in the tourism industry is very far removed from roads, public safety,  and education.   Taxing the private sector successfully doesn’t necessarily make city government a good competitor in the private sector, and I am not sure if CBJ should be a competitor. 

    The last time I was in Hoonah the Huna-Totem Corporation was well along in constructing a tram by the way.   I don’t know if it was completed nor do I know if a tram there would have information you could use to decide if city government needs to build a tram.

    If the business model you have for Eaglecrest is unsuccessful I don’t think that putting more money into the enterprise should necessarily trump changing the model.   ADF&G uses volunteers to operate its indoor shooting range here in Juneau, at least it did until the pandemic.   Volunteers open the facility, brief new shooters, oversee the shooting, and even clean the restrooms at the end of the day even though that entire facility is funded by the excise tax on guns and ammo.    If the winter we have had in 2021-22 has been inadequate to cover all fixed costs and overhead at Eagecrest then upping your investment on behalf of voters and taxpayers could amount to doubling down on a poor investment; perhaps your business model needs a tune-up and you could look at the ADF&G shooting range.

    Speaking of your financing plans, at least as I have heard it described, the so-called Central Treasury Note is not a substitute for stand-alone revenue bonds, especially from a risk to taxpayers standpoint.   There may be an underlying belief that Juneau taxpayers are as financially unsophisticated and as gullible as is the least adept Assembly member but I am not sure that is the case.   As a general rule government does not do well when it enters the private sector as a competitor, and when taxpayers want to enter the private sector they may not be well served by having CBJ be their proxy.   

    I actually worked at a ski area that had a tram – a two person gondola.   I think it was the winter I was 19 years of age, so that would have been 1969.   The snow became so deep that my logging production dropped in half, one fellow shoveling stumps and one fellow falling, and then it became so deep as to be too dangerous.   So I worked weekends at Wildcat Mt., in my hometown of Gorham, NH, while I attended the University of NH.   I found the work to be fun, and the people there liked me, but it paid only about one-fifth what I made logging so I had to go back in the woods as soon as possible.   Wildcat Mt. is now part of the Vail Group.   The wages they have always paid has limited their labor pool to unmotivated people, whom I called “the townies,” fellows who had no hustle.  Skiing in northern NH was never something people from my class did but instead Wildcat drew upper class people from southern New England, and it was only at that temporary job at the ski area that I realized that BMW made automobiles.   Obviously, the Wildcat Mt. business model is considerably different than your Eaglecrest model, and taxpayers don’t worry very much whether Wildcat makes a profit.

    Thank you for your time.   Thank you for all the hard work you do for Juneau.

    Tom Boutin


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