BAR HARBOR — Cruise ship visits are up but fees remain the same.
That was the bottom line, according to the annual report delivered last week to Town Council by Cruise Ship Committee Chairman Eben Salvatore.
The Cruise Ship Committee met 10 times in 2018, according to Salvatore. If the new citizens’ initiative is approved in June limiting voting to residents only on the committee, he said, mustering a quorum will be a problem.
“We will not be able to call the meeting to order. So this may be the last time you see a member of the cruise ship committee.”
The committee considered, but did not recommend raising the Port Development Fee from $2 to $3 per passenger for the previous, 2018, season.
With the number of cruise ship visits, Salvatore said, “We are seeing a bit of growth.”
The town drew four maiden voyages last season, and 180 visits overall, he said, for a total of 242,108 passengers. Some 25 visits were cancelled due to weather. “We had a rough October,” Salvatore commented.
Town councilors asked if the cruise ship committee would reconsider the fee increase question in 2019.
“As a town, we’ve definitely seen a couple of significant tax increases,” said Councilor Joe Minutolo. “I personally would like to see the cruise ship industry at least trend towards what our tax increases are because, obviously, [the fees] are static.”
Minutolo also asked if the per-day passenger caps could be reconsidered. Current caps are 3,500 passengers per day in July and August, and 5,500 per day in the spring and fall. Daily caps are set by ship capacity, not actual passengers. The harbormaster has the discretion to exceed passenger caps by 200, as decided by Town Council in 2017.
“We’re being recognized as a huge cruise ship town,” he said. “When you’ve got three ships in the harbor, the park is an unpleasurable place and unsafe place to be. Can we look at rethinking these numbers? We all want to be profitable … but we want to keep the quality of life here.”
Councilor Matthew Hochman countered, “Cruise ship passengers are 20 percent of our visitors. Are we going to cap land-based visitors as well? I would caution us against singling out one way of getting here as a problem.”