County commissioners okay ideas to reduce ferry funding gap
Two members of Clackamas County's Transportation and Development department met with the Board of County Commissioners in a policy session on Jan. 21. They sought and won the commissioners' approval to implement measures to reduce Canby Ferry's funding gap.
These include a formal request to the City of Canby requesting an annual contribution to assist with operating costs and to direct staff to continue with the marketing campaign to increase revenue.
The staff presenters included Mike Bezner, assistant director of the transportation and development department and Shane Abbott, transportation maintenance supervisor.
Many readers probably remember about a year ago when the same department set up several suggestions to eliminate or keep the ferry including an attempt to build a high, two-lane bridge over the water where the ferry continues its journeys across the Willamette River. The public's hue and cry against a toll bridge was heard around the area and funding gap ideas were tabled.
The county makes an annual fiscal decision whether to keep operating the ferry, even though its revenue doesn't cover costs. Typically, there is a revenue shortfall of up to $400,000, although in fiscal year 2018-19 the shortfall was $311,000, which is supported by the County's Road Fund supports.
The transportation and development department continues to wonder if it is reasonable to use county resources to contribute to the ferry. This is a large Road Fund contribution compared to other transportation connections with similar low daily volumes. But, according to the department, the ferry is important part of the identity of the Canby area.
Last year, staff suggested several ways to eliminate the ferry's shortfall. Those included reducing operating hours or closing during the winter or the infamous bridge, which the public spoke about loud and long. The staff determined most wouldn't be able to seriously impact the shortfall. Since then staff began looking at four options.
-It has already increased the cost of a punch card to $4 from $3 a trip. This offers riders a $1 discount. The new card started last July, but some regular riders, before the increase went into effect, purchased extra cards at the old cost. Staff can't determine the effect of this until the older punch cards are used up and new ones are purchased.
-Another idea is to create a funding district to supplement fares. However, such a district must be large enough to raise enough funds to significantly impact the shortfall.
For example, a district that includes all properties within a five-mile radius of the ferry can raise nearly $300,000 a year through a $0.03 per thousand tax rate. However, this would include distant cities such as Wilsonville, Oregon City and West Linn. A district including properties within a two-mile radius would require a $0.38 tax rate per thousand to raise the same amount of funding.
A third idea would be to seek contributions from neighboring cities. The county hasn't formally requested an annual contribution from Canby or nearby cities. Staff also has asked ODOT to see if there are funds available to supplement ferry operations.
Finally, the county has hired a consultant to develop a marketing campaign driving awareness for the ferry to spur increasing short- and long-term riders. The campaign also will test and measure marketing tactics to enable effective and cost-effective future marketing. The campaign will begin this spring and concepts for it currently are being developed.
The options align with the department's Strategic Business Plan for the Transportation Maintenance program, which provides repairs, maintenance, preservation and emergency response services to the public. This allows them to live, work, play and travel safely on a well-maintained county transportation system. It also aligns with the county's performance Clackamas goals by building a strong infrastructure and honors, uses, promotes and invests in the county's natural resources.
Staff in its policy session report indicated that that it would return in six months after assessing how the actions reduced the shortfall. While it wasn't discussed, a spokes person suggested there will be an update sometime after June.
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