Ferry companies haven’t received needed government subsidies due to audits that were allegedly never handed in to the Department of Public Works, but the attorney who represents the territory’s franchise ferry companies, Maria Tankenson-Hodge, said the audits were handed in and, in fact, during a time when audits were not even required to obtain the subsidies.
During a Wednesday meeting with the Public Services Commission, Tankerson-Hodge said, “I did inquire of the companies and they confirmed they had submitted many audits to the Department of Public Works, but what I was told by the general manager of Transportation Services was that the statute itself involved in the appropriation of these subsidy monies did not require audits and that the requirement for the audits had been incorporated in annual operating… or subsidy agreements.”
She added that according to her conversation with the general manager of Transportation Services, “when the last administration came into office they refused to sign anymore of those agreements because they said they didn’t have the money to fund them. So it wasn’t that they (ferry companies) weren’t providing the audits, it was that even during a time when there was actually no legal requirement for audits, they weren’t getting the subsidies because the government was saying it didn’t have the money.”
Tankerson-Hodge said, “The companies have done everything they could possibly do to become compliant and they absolutely need these subsidies…the ball is in the hands of the Department of Public Works.”
PSC Chairman Raymond Williams said the statements concerned him “because you are telling me you are going to these government agencies and year after year someone is passing the buck. The bottom line is you need a subsidy and that is the whole purpose of the funding. I’ll be frank with you, you really need to find someone who can assist you. I feel really sad about what you guys are going through.”
The funding sought is not just for the ferry boat companies but also for the government owned ferry boats, Tankerson-Hodge said, both of which are in desperate need of funds.
Testimony was also given by the commission’s technical consultant Avery Williams, who is to perform a procedural audit of STJ Ferry Franchisees. He said he “had good cooperation from the ferry boat companies” and will complete the audit in the next 60 days. Williams said he has had no issues obtaining documents or correspondence.
The additional 60 days was requested by Williams so he can complete work on finalizing a system in which ferry rate revenue and daily passenger use can be recorded in a streamlined manner.