County commission lobbies for increased funding for ferry
December 22, 2022
Wahkiakum County commissioners on Tuesday lobbied the chair of the state legislature's transportation committee for increased funding for county transportation services.
The State of Washington covers 80 percent of ferry operation costs, but state statutes contain a cap on that funding. When costs exceed the level covered under the cap, the county has to shift money from road department projects to cover the overage, Public Works Director Chuck Beyer explained. Overages have run between $100,000 and $200,000, he said.
Is it possible to raise the cap, Chair Gene Strong asked. "We don't want to get to where we don't have to come back every time," said Commissioner Dan Cothren.
"A $200,000 hit for a small county is a really big hit," commented Commissioner Lee Tischer.
House Transportation Committee Chair Jake Fey said he is familiar with the county and the ferry and that he understood the county's request. The ferry provides an important service, he said.
There are a couple ways to act, Fey said. One would be to make a permanent change of the amount in the statute; second, they could change the biennial funding appropriation, but that would lapse at the end of the two year period.
After more discussion, Fey said he would discuss the issue with staff to determine the best way to address the situation. He asked that county staff submit documents showing revenues and expenses for ferry operations.
"It would be nice if we didn't have to go back and change the statute [every biennium]," he said. "I get the bind you're in. My preference is for you to continue to manage ferry operations.
"Maybe you'd like to manage the state ferry system," he quipped, drawing loud laughter from commissioners and others present.
"I thought I'd get that reaction," Fey said. "I'd like you to stick with it. The ferry is important."
The county's bus transportation system also needs a funding boost, Health and Human Services personnel commented.
The buses are around 10 years old and often out of service, said Department Director Chris Bischoff.
The county has applied for state grants to replace them, he said, but the requests haven't been rated high enough to be funded.
The county's system links the Amtrak station Kelso with Pacific County's transit system in Naselle, Julie Johnston added. When larger buses are out of service, the county has to use vans to transport passengers.
"I've taken notes about your situation," Fey replied.