Response To Guemes Ferry Fare Increase Proposal

April 21, 2020

Skagit County Board of Commissioners 1800 Continental Pl?Mt. Vernon, WA 98273

RE: Guemes Ferry Fare Increase Proposal

Dear Commissioners,

I am sending this letter to you directly but am also providing a copy to the link for public comment on the proposed fare increase. I would like to ask you to increase the comment period from ten days to thirty days because of the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic guidelines which do not allow for public meetings at this time. Typically, there would be a public meeting on Guemes Island to inform island residents of the proposed fare increase and also a meeting between the Ferry Committee and Public Works followed, finally, by a public hearing in front of the Board of Commissioners. None of this established process prior to the Board of Commissioners decision on the fare increase proposal can be followed due to the rules about public meetings and possible transmission of the coronavirus. Many Guemes Islanders affected by the fare proposal have not even heard about the proposal and haven’t been given adequate time to comment in the ten days allowed for public comment. Please allow more time for public participation.

Regarding the proposal itself, I do not think that a 15% fare increase should be implemented on Oct. 1, 2020, for the following reasons:

1) The $124,000 shortfall that triggers the fare increase proposal is based on increased costs which are not all directly part of the normal operation and maintenance expenses which are submitted to the WSDOT for the deficit reimbursement funds. I am particularly concerned about the inclusion of $256,208 in outside consultant fees listed in the O&M expenditures. In the GBC 2546 Interagency Agreement between WSDOT Local Programs and Skagit County page 1: 1.TERMS AND CONDITIONS, Item 1.3 Operating and maintenance expenditures are defined as: “Routine”...and lists normal expenditures one would expect to incur in the operation of the ferry. It does not list outside consultant fees. I believe that consultant fees are “extra-ordinary” and should be excluded. I believe the listed expenditure of consultant fees should be cleared with the Director, Local Programs, WSDOT, P.O. Box 47390, Olympia, WA 98504-730 before proceeding any further. In Item 1.5 it is stated “WSDOT reserves the right to conduct an audit of the COUNTY ferry system operations and maintenance and to disallow any costs not in accordance with BARS (Budgeting Accounting and Reporting System) and or this AGREEMENT.”

2) Rather than increasing fares to regain the shortfall of $124,000 based on consultant fees, I believe it is time to start considering a program of cost reduction or cost containment. It is possible to reign in expenses as an alternative to fare increases.

Presently, when it comes comes to managing the ferry operation there is no oversight or accountability for increased expenses. A review of many of the expenditures listed in Obj. 540 should be reviewed to see if any of the expenditures, such as 4519 “Rentals” for $107,461, could be reduced. There are many more items listed that should be thoroughly reviewed to see if any of these expenditures could be reduced as well.

With a program of cost containment rather than one of cost expansion it is possible to reign in the continual rising costs and halt fare increases. It is time to stop the escalating cost of operating the m/v “Guemes”.


Glen Veal