The Steamship Authority has decided against closing its offsite booking office, at least for the foreseeable future, although it will relocate.

Tuesday’s July meeting of the SSA board of governors at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven was told the boat line would advertise this week for new premises and already has had preliminary discussions with management at the airport about moving there.

The decision represents a victory for those wanting to maintain service to Islanders over the SSA’s fiscal hawks, particularly board chairman and Falmouth representative Robert Marshall, who was strongly in favor of shuttering the operation.

The prospect was first raised publicly at the June meeting of the board, prompted by the fact that the new owners of the Beacon building — Island Professional Realty LLC — had told the boat line they have other plans for the space, and would not extend the current lease beyond the end of January next year.

SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said then that the end of the lease at the current site “gives us an opportunity to take a step back and see if it’s something we still want to continue.”

He produced figures showing the number of people using the branch office, which costs around $300,000 a year to operate, has been in steep decline over the past decade.

In 2001, there were 47,000 over-the-counter transactions. That number declined to just over 30,000 in 2006, and last year it fell to under 18,000.

The office also handles some phone sales, which also have declined, but not so sharply, from around 35,200 in 2006 to 31,350 last year, and deals with Islander issues relating to their profile numbers, for which statistics are not kept.

The future of the office elicited rare disagreement among members of the SSA hierarchy.

Mr. Marshall strongly advocated closure.

“My opinion is for $300,000, if we’re handling five people an hour on average, this is a no-brainer,” he said

“Given the success of the Web site and the ever-decreasing traffic through this office and the cost, there’s not much of a decision to be made,” Mr. Marshall said, before going on to suggest it would be cheaper for staff to drive to the homes of every customer.

But George Balco, chairman of the SSA port council from Tisbury, spiritedly disagreed.

“My impression is that it’s very much Islanders, I mean year-round Islanders, that utilize this service,” he said.

“I think it’s a big service and we ought to be slow in totally doing away with it,” Mr. Balco said, and suggested canvassing the views of those who used the services of the office.

He also questioned the calculation of the $300,000 cost of the service, noting that staff would have to be redeployed elsewhere. Once wages were taken out, he argued, the real cost was the $24,000 in annual rent “plus heat and light.”

The governors deferred a decision in June, on the basis that Vineyard governor Marc Hanover was absent, and to hear from the traveling public.

And this week, when those views came in, the Marshall view had no support, even from Mr. Marshall himself.

This time he said he was not seeking to close the office down, only to prune its cost to “some kind of number that makes sense.”

Mr. Hanover said he wanted to keep the jobs “on the Island, for Islanders” and had heard from a large number of people opposed to closure.

“But I think we can scale down, find another location,” he said.

And if patronage of the office continued to decline over the coming years, the board could revisit the issue at a future date

Mr. Hanover, along with Mr. Balco and another member of the port council, Robert Huss, all said they had received a lot of local feedback in support of the continued operation of the office.

Only one member of the public spoke up at the meeting. Patricia Graham of Oak Bluffs said she and her husband used the office “a great deal” because they had to make trips to Boston about twice a month for health reasons.

The idea of closing it, she said, was “unconscionable.”

“I just want to make a plea. I hear you. The cost is outrageous, I understand that, but if you would work really hard to find a place to relocate . . .” she said.

To Mr. Marshall’s suggestion that dedicated phone lines might be an alternative solution, she said: “All I can think about is the times I do call and I don’t get an answer. Then when I do get somebody, they’re in a big, big hurry.”

The face-to-face interaction was particularly important for seniors, such as herself.

“Sometimes we get confused,” she said.

In other business, the board approved new spring operating schedules largely unchanged, and was presented with the most recent passenger and vehicle numbers, showing things picking up a little over the past two months after a slow start to the year.

To the end of May, the number of passengers carried on the Vineyard route was down 3.6 per cent compared with last year, or almost 600,000 people. The numbers of cars and trucks also were down, 0.7 and 2.3 per cent respectively.

In June, however, passenger numbers were almost on par with last year, the number of cars was up slightly and the number of trucks down slightly.

Just before the end of the meeting, Mr. Hanover said he had an issue he wanted to bring before the board, on the advice of SSA counsel.

“I was on the board of directors of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, who the Steamship Authority has a relationship with. I resigned as of May . . . because I felt there was a conflict there,” he said.

Having addressed the potential conflict, he proceeded to lobby for the SSA to move its banking business away from Sovereign to the Martha’s Vineyard bank.

“It’s a community bank that supports this Island very generously with grants and sponsorships and scholarships

“I’m prodding Wayne to expand our relationship with them because I feel that they serve the same people we serve. The moneys generated should also be coming to the Island.

“I don’t like the fact that we do so much business with a bank that’s owned by a company in Spain,” Mr. Hanover said.

Mr. Lamson said he would put together an RFP for banking services and try to work out criteria relating to importance attached to working with a local community bank.

Once again, Mr. Marshall spoke in favor of putting strict financial considerations first, saying action should depend on which financial institution cut them the best deal.

“I think it’s certainly worthy of more discussion, but the numbers are what the are,” he said.