Cordova city council approves raw fish tax

Two amendments added to ordinance

An ordinance to tax harvesters 0.5 percent of the value of fish delivered in town has been approved on a 4-2 vote by the Cordova City Council.

The vote came during the council’s April 17 meeting, in the wake of a public vote on the matter during the March 5 city election.

Amendments created during the first reading of the ordinance and later adopted include an exemption for hatcheries as defined under state statute 16.10 and a change to the tax return filing and remittance period from monthly to annually.

Fishermen will be taxed 0.5 percent of the value of fish that are delivered. Processors will write the tax on the fish ticket and are then responsible for paying money from that tax to the city, said Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin. The city is treating this as a landing tax, similar to how the state treats it, but it is written as a sales tax because that’s what cities can levy, he added.

Money collected from the tax will be used for harbor improvements.

Councilmembers Melina Meyer and Ken Jones voted against the ordinance in its second reading.

“I don’t like the sales tax wording,” Jones said before the vote. “I’d like to see us go after a fisheries landing tax as intended by the voters. I think that this is not what the voters intended and not what they voted on.”

Jones said he believes the intention of the voters was “to tax the processors, not the fishermen.”

Due to disagreements and confusion between council members, the item was moved to the end of the meeting so that Cordova’s attorney Holly Suozo could call in to address concerns.

“Both Councilman Jones and Meyer made good points, but they’re probably not going to come up a ton … and we can address them as all of a sudden we incur the problem,” Councilman David Glasen said. “So, I agree with you guys but in an effort to be able to collect taxes on Copper River fish … we gotta, I think, move forward.”

The city council also unanimously approved a resolution of the city council and Cordova District School Board in opposition of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s fiscal year 2020 budget.

Another resolution, which passed 4-2, reads as follows:

“City council resolution 04-19-18, a resolution of the City Council of the City of Cordova, Alaska, authorizing amendment to the FY19 budget for the amount of $398,075 to account for CIP (capital improvement projects) carry forward projects and grant funding.”

Councilmen Jones and Tom Bailer voted against this resolution.

The third resolution, approving the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the International Brotherhood of Electric Works local union No. 1547, also passed.