Ferry Finances: Dollars and Sense

Note:  Reducing ferry costs results in reduced ferry fares, and Betsy Schneider’s line item analysis of the budget points out expenses that should be critically reviewed and, hopefully, modified.   There are two sides to the ferry financial crisis:  administrative costs and budgeting, as well as revenue.  Betsy’s concerns about the impact of huge increases in ferry fares are applicable to both Option 11 and Option 6:

Dear Councilmembers:

I’m writing to comment on the proposal regarding the Lummi Island ferry that is on your agenda for the Special Committee of the Whole meeting on November 2, 2010.  I have three serious concerns about the proposal for your consideration.

1.      The fare increase proposed in Option 11 would be devastating to those of us who actually live on the Island.

*  Since almost all Islanders use multi-ride passes, it is simply false to imply that the proposed rates represent a 35% increase.  For a car and driver, we presently we pay $160 for a 25-ride pass ($6.40 per round trip).  The proposed fare is $287 for 25 rides ($11.48 per round trip).  This is an 80% increase.

*  Motorcyclists also are looking at an 80% increase for a round trip.  They presently pay $3.20 per trip on a 25-ride pass.  The proposed fare would be $143 or $5.72 per round trip.

*  Most severely affected are the pedestrians.  At $40 for a 25-trip pass, we have been paying $1.60 per round trip. The proposed fare for a 25-trip pass is $115, which is $4.60 per round trip.  This is a 188% increase.

Reducing the discount for 25-trip passes so drastically while raising fares 35% at the same time is an impossible demand and one that would forever alter life on the Island.  The calculations in the proposal regarding overall revenue based on these fare increases would soon be proven wrong as low and middle income Islanders are forced off the Island by ferry fares that they cannot pay.

2.      I believe several items in the Ferry Fund Operations budget (included as page 18 attached to Frank Abart’s 9/29/10 memorandum to the Council) are overstated and should be modified.  These modifications would allow for corresponding reductions in the 25-ride pass rates discussed above.

*       First, and most important, the Council should not continue to assume that $200,000 is the starting point for the ferry lease.  I assume that this amount is included in the line item designated “space rental”.  It should be reduced to fair market value ($66,666).  What kind of message does it send to the Lummis when the County includes an unaffordable lease amount in its budget?  We can’t afford a $200,000 lease, and the Council should make that clear.

*       The line items for “travel-educ/training,” “travel-other” and “registration/tuition,” when combined, have increased from $12,109 in 2009 to $27,200 in 2011.  (In 2008 this amount was only $464.)  When money is scarce and times are tough, travel and education budgets are usually reduced, not increased.  These items should be reduced or cut.

*       I’m not sure what the line item for “professional services” includes, but it has increased from $120,216 in 2009 to $190,250 in 2011.  Surely economies are possible in this category as well.

*       Even postage has increased from $644 to $2000.  Why?

*       The line item for administrative cost allocation has increased from $184,042 in 2009 to $222,186 in 2011.  The breakdown of these costs raises more questions.

*       Under ordinary circumstances (not during a year like this, when the ferry lease issue has consumed inordinate amounts of county staff time), it seems unlikely that the Public Works Director, who has many responsibilities, regularly spends one full day per week on Lummi Island ferry issues.

*       Likewise, under ordinary circumstances, it seems unlikely that two full days of clerk/receptionist time are consumed on ferry business.

*       More than one day per week each is allocated to the ferry for the time of an accounting supervisor and a safety specialist.  Again, under ordinary circumstances, is this realistic?

*       Other allocation explanations (non payroll costs, current expense fund, administrative services fund) should be questioned by the Council as well.  Councilmembers are more familiar with the terminology used and should raise enough questions to get a comprehensible explanation.

All these factors — an unaffordable lease, playing catch-up on six years worth of deficits, allocating every possible County penny (and then some) to the ferry — are working in concert to impose an abolutely unmanageable burden on the Islanders.  We are willing to pay more than we have been paying.  But we are not willing to be chased off the Island.

3.      Finally I object to the proposed amendment to Whatcom County Code, Section 10.34.020 (M).  This amendment would delete the provision that allowed Island residents 90 days to bring in any unused portion of an old ferry card and get credit for the unused portion.  If you lived on the Island, you would know that it is nearly impossible to calculate one’s ferry crossings so accurately as to use up all trips on a pass by a certain date.  This is a cruel twist to add at a time when Islanders are facing a devastating financial loss and would save the County very little, if anything.  The amendment should not be adopted.

Thank you for your attention to this input and for all the time you have spent wrestling with the issue of the Lummi Island ferry.
Betsy Schneider
Lummi Island

3 thoughts on “Ferry Finances: Dollars and Sense

  1. Thank you Betsy for your excellent letter. I support your ideas 100%. I hope these items were addressed at the council meeting this morning as it certainly makes good business sense to look at these budget questions and concerns. Thank you for all that you do,

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