County Council Sets Date for Fares Public Hearing

Calculation of the 45% share of the ferry operating costs which comes from the Whatcom County Road Fund has been the subject of debate for some time now. The County Council last Tuesday (April 23, 2013) introduced an ordinance (AB2013-162) which would change the calculation method.   A public hearing regarding the ordinance has been tentatively scheduled for the regular Council  meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, in the Council Chambers at 311 Grand Avenue in Bellingham. 

At the center of the debate is the Road Fund subsidy the County received from the State of Washington because Whatcom County operates a ferry. Here is the wording of the present ordinance regarding how the  calculation is made:

“Beginning January 1, 2007, any interest income or or income from state motor vehicle fuel tax for ferry operation will be deducted from the actual operating costs before the actual 55 percent fare box recovery rate is calculated.”

The new wording proposed is:

“Beginning January 1, 2013, any interest income or miscellaneous ferry fares income, or income from the State of Washington specifically identified as the annual Ferry Deficit Reimbursement and the credit for County employee ferry trips will be deducted from the actual operating costs before the actual 55 percent fare box recovery rate is calculated and before the actual 45% Road Fund subsidy is calculated.  The goal of this method of calculation is that the Road Fund will not contribute more than 45 percent of the adjusted operating costs eacb year.”

If the ordinance is passed as proposed, the calculation would be retroactively effective January 1 of this year.

According to a letter accompanying the proposed ordinance from Public Works Director Frank Abart to the County Council and the County Executive, the following is the justification of the proposed changes:

“Background and Purpose:

“The intended purpose is to provide the same basis of calculation for the 45% Road Fund Subsidy as is currently used to calculate the 55% Fare Box Recovery.  The current calculation allowed by ordinance provides a disproportionate increase in the amount subsidized by the Road Fund.

“The change also clarifies the source and identification of state funding intended to directly assist County Ferry Operations.  There have been concerns expressed regarding other state funding and confusion about whether it applies or not. This language change is intended to eliminate the confusion.

“Other Information:

“The financial impact from the previous three years has required the Road Fund to pay an additional $228,888 in increased subsidy toward the Ferry Operational expenses (2010 =$61,735, 2011 = $80,028, 2012=$87,125).”

The “other state funding” mentioned is the motor vehicle fuel tax funds the County receives every year because they operate a ferry. Public Works Director Abart has argued for years that these funds are not required to be applied as a credit to offset ferry operation costs. Instead, he argues that the money is a credit to the entire Road Fund, not just the ferry, and can be used however the County wishes. He agrees, however, that the County would not receive those funds if they were not operating a ferry. The proposed ordinance would enforce Abart’s interpretation beginning this year.

Read the proposed ordinance, Director Abart’s letter, and see the proposed changes here.

2 thoughts on “County Council Sets Date for Fares Public Hearing

  1. Thanks for laying this out so clearly, Nancy, and providing the language of the proposal. Doesn’t feel like there is much we can do about it, does it? Or am I being too pessimistic?

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