Back in the year 2000, Nantucket town clerk Catherine Flanagan Stover learned a startling statistic: that for each person not recorded on the street list — the official record of town population — the town lost some $1,100 in state and federal funds each year.
Ms. Stover, the keeper of Nantucket’s street list, quickly became convinced that the island was missing out on millions of dollars because people for various reasons were not on that list. The same was probably true for the Vineyard.
And she came up with a simple idea for getting them on the list: make their cut-price fares on Steamship Authority vessels contingent on signing up.
It took many years of lobbying on her part, but this week the board of governors of the SSA finally took the idea seriously enough to have a preliminary discussion of the use of street lists to determine who is eligible for excursion fares on their ferries.
At the monthly meeting held in Oak Bluffs Tuesday morning, boat line general counsel Steven Sayers explained how it might work.
Currently, he said, “in order to be eligible for an excursion fare you have to complete two items. One is an affadavit of residency on the Island, the other one’s a copy of your driver’s licence showing an Island address.
“Catherine Stover, for many years has advocated that instead of requiring an affadavit, that we instead just look at the street list to determine whether someone is a resident of the Island.
“That is an official document that is published on an annual basis, and the time-honored method of determining residency, especially for federal and state funds, which are often given out to communities based on the number of residents.
“Her hope — unabashedly — is to the extent that we now have people using the excursion fares that are not on the street lists . . . we will increase the numbers on the street lists and thereby increase the funding by about $1,100 per year per resident.”
The idea seemed suspiciously simple and Vineyard governor Marc Hanover confessed initial reservations about it. But a meeting with the town clerks of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown — recruited to the cause by Ms. Stover — had ameliorated them, he said.
Indeed, both Mr. Sayers and Ms. Stover suggested little downside. The use of the street lists would not discriminate against renters, for they record residency, not ownership. Nor are they restricted to U.S. citizens. Undocumented residents would be at no greater risk of detection than they are now.
It remains doubtful, however, whether undocumented aliens will sign up in greater numbers than under the old plan; not because of the new requirement, but because of the other requirement — possession of a driver’s license.
Nonetheless, Mr. Sayers suggested the idea was attractive as a way by which the SSA could help the Islands get more money.
How much money remains an open question. Ms. Stover suggests many millions of dollars.
“On Nantucket we can prove a [year-round] population of 11.500. But my belief is we have in excess of 20,000 people here,” she said.
Her figure, she said, is based on the number of enrolled voters, the number of children enrolled in school, and an estimate of the number of foreign nationals who, as she said “have no reason to register unless they get married, have a baby, or die.”
Assuming her figuring of the real population is correct and — a bigger assumption — that all of them would be persuaded to register, that could equate to $9 or $10 million a year for Nantucket.
So far, no one seems to have done any similar calculation for the Vineyard, but if the same were true here, this Island which has a provable population of about 15,000, would gain proportionately more.
Pending public discussion, the board could adopt the change as early as next month.
On Tuesday SSA governors also approved new schedules for this coming winter and spring, which will see a number of services discontinued, in an effort to cut costs.
The agreed-on winter schedule — to operate from Dec. 29 to April 3, will eliminate the 6 a.m. trip to the Island from Woods Hole on Saturdays and Sundays. The 9:30 p.m. trip from the Vineyard on Fridays and Saturdays will also be cut.
The spring schedule, from April 4 to May 18 next year, will cut out the 6:15 a.m. freight boat trip from Woods Hole and the 7:15 a.m. return, on Sundays only.
More drastic cuts had been considered, but did not go ahead after public objections, particularly relating to the difficulties of students attending Falmouth Academy.
And the latest numbers showed why the boat line is focused on cost cutting. They show a net operating loss for June of about $2.5 million, almost $600,000 worse than forecast, making the net loss for the year $7.4 million, or $1.9 million above budget.
Fuel costs alone were $270,000 more than forecast and 73 per cent higher than for the same month last year.
In view of that, and evidence that Hy-Line Cruises were performing much better in attracting day-trippers, particularly on organized tours, governors pressed management to do more to lift passenger numbers. Possible actions could include offering free one-day parking in Hyannis, and/or allowing people to take bicycles for free.
Said Mr. Hanover: “My initial reaction is we should try something, because it appears we’re getting spanked.”
Meanwhile the story of escalating costs continues. The dredging project underway at the authority’s Fairhaven maintenance facility is now $62,000 over its original contracted cost, with more change orders on the way.
And the cost of drydocking the ferry Martha’s Vineyard in the fall, which had been estimated at $220,000 by the boat line, will cost some 40 per cent more than that. The board agreed to a contact for $307,550.
The governors also approved a list of performance criteria for general manager Wayne Lamson for the coming year, and noted the recent death of former governor E.B. Collins who served on the SSA board in the early 1990s.
Mr. Hanover praised Mr. Collins.
“Although he and I were on opposite sides of the fence most of the time, he was always a perfect gentleman and always a pleasure to talk to,” he said.
Finally, they were told one of their number is stepping down. New Bedford member David Oliveira announced that after two three-year terms, he was not seeking reappointment.