Maine port abolishes tax hike

By Johanna Jainchill

The city council in Rockland, Maine, reversed a decision to increase its per-passenger fee for large cruise ships.

Earlier this year, the council raised the fee from $1 to $6, a decision that threatened the city’s relationship with Royal Caribbean International, which brought the 2,504-passenger Jewel of the Seas to Rockland last fall and is scheduled to visit again this October.

Royal Caribbean opposed the fee hike, noting that when it scheduled the port call in November 2008, it was quoted the $1 fee.

"We believe the 600% increase to the passenger fee is excessive and ill-timed given current economic conditions," the cruise line said in a statement. "We are also concerned by the short notice of the increase. Cruise line operators, including Royal Caribbean, plan port calls 24 months in advance and begin selling these cruises to guests 12 to 18 months in advance.

"We strive to mitigate costs that jeopardize any financial hardships to our guests, but an increase such as this will have a negative impact. …We feel that the fee increase should be rescinded and tariffs reset to their previous levels."

A report in the local newspaper, the Herald Gazette, said that the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce and local business owners had called for the waiver, saying that Rockland’s economy benefitted from cruise ship passengers.

The council voted 3-to-2 to reverse the fee hike, with those in favor of the reversal saying that Royal Caribbean had not been given enough time to budget for the increase.

One council member told the Herald Gazette that she opposed reversing the fee because "the multibillion dollar cruise ship company was not willing to sit down and talk with the council."

Another council member was quoted as saying, "I hope this brings the goodwill and more cruise ships in the future."

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