I got SoundRunner’s e-newsletter today and apparently they’re
not happy with a story I wrote last week. It says “contrary to what
might have been implied by the press,” the first month of
operations came in slightly under budget and, according to numbers
so far for July and August, it appears they will also.
That’s great. I like ferries. They’re a neat way to get around.
I hope SoundRunner does well. I think it’s on the right track.
I didn’t mean to be be a downer, but the discussion at
Thursday’s meeting was not about being under budget. It was about
running out of money by November. Commissioner Tom Coultas pointed
out that SoundRunner lost $66,080 in June, its first month since
resuming service, and $73,607 in July. The July number hasn’t
been certified by an accountant. Now if they had planned to spend
more than $66,080 in June and $73,607 in July, then they’re under
budget. I don’t know what was expected. If somebody does, please
let me know. A projection mentioned at the meeting was to lose
$19,000 in June.
The commissioners were simply doing the math. They have
committed $200,000 to operating costs in each of the first four
years to help SoundRunner get going. This year there was $126,000
left over from ferry grants, for a total of $326,000. According to
the above numbers, they had $188,000 left going into August. At a
“burn” rate of $70,000 per month, that won’t make it through
November. Next year they’ll have only $200,000 for an entire year —
less than $17,000 a month — not $326,000 for seven months like this
The newsletter implies the July number isn’t the “actual”
operating cost, that the CPA doesn’t provide it until three weeks
after the end of the month. There’s also talk that some expenses
were charged to operating costs that shouldn’t have been. Changes
to either could make the bottom line look better.
The most immediate challenge for SoundRunner is getting through
the slower winter months, according to the newsletter. It’s
aggressively working on options for sailing through the winter and
spring. They’ll be presented to port commissioners within a few
SoundRunner is looking at a bunch of money-making opportunities,
but most wouldn’t kick in until next summer. Beginning Saturday, it
will be making special runs to Seahawks home games. That should be
popular, for fans to be able to walk to the stadium and having the
boat waiting for them afterward.
My story last week elicited a bunch of ideas from smart people
about how to help SoundRunner, so that was good. Many others called
for SoundRunner to be shut down immediately and to fire the
commissioners. They would rather have the money spent on the marina
or sitting in the bank. And though it’s hard to disagree the port
shouldn’t pour money down a hole, a port is more than a marina.
It’s an economic development tool. Kingston has a gorgeous marina
and park area, and those should remain top priorities. Make sure
there’s enough money socked away to keep them that way. With what’s
left, find other ways to help the community, whether its ferry
service or something else.