Report: Council 10/26 Ferry Fare discussion

UPDATED afternoon 4 PM, 10/26 by Wynne Lee to include some additional detail that Bill passed on.

UPDATE 2:  The Bellingham Herald published an article today (Oct. 27) by John Stark, with their take on the meeting yesterday.

UPDATE 3:  Latte Republic published a video of the meeting. You can find the link here.

Noon 10/26/2010:   Bill Lee called in a few highlights about today’s (2 hr!) Council committee discussion of ferry fares. (Blame me for anything that I got wrong in this second-hand summary.)

Anyone else who attended: please, please PLEASE add your observations, comments and corrections via the comment box below. This will improve our understanding of what happened.  Wynne

Councilors present at the Committee of the Whole meeting: Brenner, Crawford, Nelson, Kershner, Mann, Weimer; Kntuzen absent

Islanders present (no public discussion; just listened) Bill Lee, Rhayma Blake, Bud Jewell, Elizabeth Kilanowski, Robb Rich, Michelle Luke, Jim Dickinson, Mike McKenzie, Mark Sexton, Fred Kinney (maybe others too?)

Action taken:  Council directed Frank Abart to develop Option 11 (proposed by Weimer, who didn’t necessarily think it was best but wanted to move the process along), with two addenda –

1) Continue discussion of needs based fares, and

2) consider fairness of shifting dock maintenance from the capital to operational expense category.

Sam Crawford also asked Frank Abart to consider the possibility and consequences of changing from an 18 hr to 12 hr ferry operations schedule. Frank asked if this was to be brought back to the whole council. Crawford said the two of them could just discuss it privately.

Council Discussion

  • From their Oct. 12 discussion:  The Council uniformly rejected the suggestion of adding a surcharge now, to start reducing the ferry deficit as soon as possible and later developing comprehensive fare changes once all financial and other issues are resolved
  • Kershner initiated a lengthy discussion arguing to abolish needs-based fares, which currently cost about $60,000 annually, partly on grounds that it’s excessively administratively demanding, maybe (Tax Assessor comment) because changes to state laws have made it hard to get necessary information).
  • Ken Mann created his own financial analysis and (I think Bill said) handed out a booklet with this information, which Bill didn’t get a copy of but thinks some other islanders may have.
  • Crawford, Kershner and Nelson strongly favored Abart’s “Option 6”, with Mann, Weimer and Brenner opposed.  There were other deadlock votes, which led Weimer to eventually propose trying Option 11, to move the process ahead.
  • Barbara Brenner is fighting to get dock construction etc shifted back from operations to capital expenditures. She generally was a strong advocate for islanders’ concerns.  (Editorial Note:  dock repairs, replacement were for years categorized as capital costs. A few years ago, the Council changed that — despite opposition from islanders, many of whom cite state definitions that indicate docks should not be considered operating costs; that swap may be one major reason why ferry fares are currently not meeting the 55% ‘operating cost’ target (T criterion. This (mis)assignment may also explain why it looks as though the ‘percentage recovered by fares’  is lower for our ferry than in other Washington counties – the old apple vs oranges thing.)
  • The Council and Abart received Nancy Ging’s financial analysis just this morning and so couldn’t really address her points.

10 thoughts on “Report: Council 10/26 Ferry Fare discussion

  1. Evidently Brian Sonntag the State Auditor, needs to review a few different theories about capital and operating costs.

    When the county drives pilings for a bridge, is that a capital or operating cost?

    When the old ferry dock was condemned for decades, was the new dock also operational as a operating cost, or as a total engineering failure, as everyone drove back and forth between Lummi Islands great Public Works Department, two broken down docks.

    How many times does it take a pile driver to show up and fix a rotten piling, due to lack of matenance?

    Or those great emergency shipyard runs, there always free in a Whatcom County Budget too!

    • Todd, I’m not quite sure whether you think state guidelines categorize some or all of the costs you mention as being operating or capital expenses. Could you please clarify?

      If you have code or references for the specific state guidelines or laws in question, it would be great if you posted that information, too, or at least where people can find the information and read it for themselves.

      Thanks, Wynne

      • Section 6.90 Illegal Contracts.
        Except as otherwise provided by ordinance, any contract in excess of an appropriation shall be null and void; and any officer, agent or employee of the County knowingly responsible shall be personally liable to anyone damaged by his action. The County Council when requested to do so by the County Executive may adopt an ordinance permitting the County to enter into contracts requiring the payment of funds from appropriations of subsequent budget cycles, but real property shall not be leased to the County for more than one year, unless it is included in a capital budget appropriation ordinance. (Ord. 97-042, 1997; Ord. 2005-075 Exh. A).

  2. Dock replacement is still considered capital expense (or should be). It was dock maintenance that was sifted from shared county transportation costs to specifically ferry operating expense a few years ago. Previously the docks were considered the equivalent of the ends of a bridge. Instead of a bridge span in between, we have a boat. The boat portion has always been considered partially our responsibility to pay for.

  3. A 12 hour ferry schedule, rather than 18 hours of access?? Now is the time for all islanders to weigh in with the County Council on how a 12 hour ferry schedule would affect them. Would it run between 7 am and 7 pm, or what? Try to imagine racing for the ferry in the evening from work, appointments, school, errands, etc. to get home (with the rest of the thundering hordes) before it’s too late! Forget evenings in town.

  4. Received this from Barbara tonight, Oct. 27 2010. Wynne.

    —–Forwarded Message—–
    Sent: Oct 27, 2010 5:57 PM
    Subject: Brenner response re: Ferry fare options

    Please find below my response to a question from an islander. Please send any correspondence to my county e-mail address, if you wish to comment.

    I don’t support the version that we forwarded to public works. I said I didn’t understand it. I made two amendments to go with it. One is to give us figures without the docks in the amount, which would lower the fares considerably. The other is to set up a better way to address needs-based fares. I prefer the county contract with an island nonprofit where we would supply a certain number of needs-based tickets and the nonprofit would figure out who gets them.

    I only voted for the option because I want those two issues addressed, not because I support any of the options which were presented to us. I didn’t see the article but if those two issues were not included, then it did not accurately portray what happened.

    Barbara Brenner

  5. I have a question I’d like Frank Abart or someone else to answer. Let me preface the question by saying that a serious look at cutting costs without cutting ferry service is not being looked at as a possible solution to ferry expenses instead of raising fares – again. My question: in the 1970’s and ‘80s there were two workers on the Whatcom Chief, a deck hand and a pilot. The pilot would sometimes help park cars before departing on trips. Why do we now have two deck hands and a pilot? And why could we not, as a cost cutting measure, reduce the staff time during evenings and other low use periods? How much would that save in expenses?

      • I’ve heard opinions that two ferry crew meet Coast Guard regulations and the 2nd deck hand was added to speed up boarding for more runs/hour. Hence, in the best of times, more $$/hr. I would like to find out if a deck hand and pilot on the ferry meets CG regulation. If one deck and would suffice, say from 8 pm – midnight that could make a sizable savings. Yes, that would mean some crew cutbacks, but that may be happening anyway if county council decide to go to a 12 hr./day schedule.

    • I would think, in light of the ongoing dock negotiations, the pending parking lot negotiations, and the imminent fare hikes, that it would be good to try to prevent a strike by the ferry crew’s Unions.

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