SoundRunner ferry under budgetAugust 16th, 2011 by ed friedrich
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 year.
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 weeks.
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.