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Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr. - Local St. Johns River Ferry supporters gathered Monday at City Hall for an update and discussion on ferry funding.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Apr. 5, 201312:00 PM EST

Legislators seeking up to $1 million for ferry fixes

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

As the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott work to develop a state budget, two state legislators have requested funding for the St. Johns River Ferry of up to $1 million.

State Sen. Aaron Bean has requested $500,000 from the state's budget for the ferry and State Rep. Janet Adkins' has asked for $1 million.

Adkins' request could move to the House floor for a vote next week, according to James Adams, Adkins' legislative assistant.

If both requests are approved, Senate and House leadership will meet to work out a compromise.

The ferry is scheduled for an out-of-water overhaul required by the U.S. Coast Guard at the end of 2013 at an estimated cost of about $1 million. Dock repairs also are needed.

The financial requests were discussed Monday at City Hall in a meeting attended by City Council Vice President Bill Gulliford, Atlantic Beach Mayor Mike Borno, St. Johns River Ferry Commission members Aaron Bowman, Elaine Brown and Rich Redick, Jacksonville Transportation Authority Director of Business Development and Corporate Sales Mike Miller and consultant Jim Gilmore.

Borno updated the group on a request he received from Scott's Chief of Staff Adam Hollingsworth, who previously served as chief of staff for former Mayor John Peyton.

Hollingsworth requested letters of support for the ferry from Naval Station Mayport and BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards, which Borno had obtained.

Hollingsworth also requested a sustainable business plan for the ferry be submitted, and approved by Brad Thoburn, JTA vice president of long-range planning, capital programs and system development. Thoburn previously served in Peyton's administration as City Planning Department director.

"I'm going to (Jacksonville Beach) Mayor (Charlie) Latham and (Neptune Beach) Mayor (Harriet) Pruette to ask for their support. The more that we can get to the governor's office the better," said Borno.

The state funding has been requested for boat repairs and infrastructure improvements, but the group who met Monday also talked about sustainable ways to fund operating costs.

"To me the key to sustainability is the operating costs. I guess sustainability, if it's going to be synonymous with break even, it's just not going to happen. It's a mode of transportation and we've explained that at the state level before," said Redick.

Gulliford supported the statement by saying most modes of transportation do not make money.

"It's never going to make money, but neither do bridges or anything else that carries people, including roads. You have to fix them and resurface them. This idea that it has to break even to be successful is pretty outdated," said Gulliford.

Gulliford suggested a meeting between himself, JTA board of directors Chairman Ed Burr and JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford to discuss JTA providing some operational funding for the ferry.

As a member of the St. Johns River Ferry Commission, Redick researched ferry revenues and developed the current business plan for the service shortly after the commission was created in April 2012.

"Given what I've seen so far, and what history tells us, out of every dollar spent we are going to need 20 cents supported," Redick said.

He explained the difficulties of trying to make revenues match expenses when the business was in a temporary status.

"We haven't implemented strategies because we don't have sustainability and it's difficult to sell things like advertising in a market when you don't know that the vehicle for advertising is still going to be there," he said.

Brown suggested a package be developed that provides information on the ferry as well as an updated business plan to showcase to interested parties.

"It needs to be a comprehensive picture," she said.

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