Beaufort County has reached a tentative agreement with J&W Corp. to continue ferry service between Daufuskie Island and Hilton Head Island through next June.
The agreement, which isn't final would eliminate Saturday service two weekends per month. It also would push back the morning boat from Daufuskie to Hilton Head on Tuesdays and Thursdays from about 8:15 to 11:15 a.m.
Under the proposal, ferry service would cost about $268,100 per year. The recently adopted county budget for 2012-13 set aside $150,000 for the ferry.
Although ticket sales will generate $21,000, the county still projects a gap of $97,100, which must be found to fund ferry operations through June 30, 2013. "There wouldn't have been an increase on anything if we had been able to change the departure time to later in the day," said Wick Scurry, owner of J&W Corp., which sails from Broad Creek Marina on Hilton Head.
Although not required under the new deal, Saturday service likely would continue much of the time, Scurry said.
Ticket prices, which the county subsidizes for students, seniors and full and part-time island residents, wouldn't change, according to Morris Campbell, the county's director of community services. The $28 full-price ticket charged to tourists also would not change.
About 6,000 people rode the ferry at the subsidized rates during the year that ended June 30, the county reported; the number of unsubsidized rides wasn't available Wednesday.
Not all Daufuskie residents ride Scurry's vessels to reach the island. The private Haig Point Club runs its own vessel to Hilton Head, and it is available to members only.
Beaufort County Council's Finance Committee endorsed the contract Monday. The contract now goes to the full council for consideration.
Councilman Steve Baer opposed the contract at the committee level, saying it wasn't clear how the county would pay for the increase.
"It's financially irresponsible to go spending money without knowing where it's coming from," he said. "It's like the federal government."
Councilman Brian Flewelling, who agrees the higher ferry contract "busts" the county's budget, says the county had no other options.
Although he's pleased ferry service will continue, Daufuskie Island Council member Aaron Crosby wasn't thrilled about possibly losing access to the mainland on some Saturdays. He said the schedule already is inconvenient for many residents and that reduced service won't encourage economic growth on the island.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.