Beaufort County has proposed a $50,000 budget increase to study long-term transportation options for Daufuskie Island ferry service.
County administrator Gary Kubic says he'll seek experts from New York, Seattle and other places with successful ferry systems to devise a lasting solution after years of quick fixes.
"It's more than just moving people," he said Thursday. "Property values have dropped so dramatically on the island, and one of the factors outside of the economy is the constant threat of uncertainty (around) ferry transportation services."
Property values on Daufuskie fell by almost 40 percent over the past five years, according to preliminary estimates from the county's ongoing property reassessment. That is by far the sharpest drop of any community in the county, according to the estimates.
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The county's proposed $99.4 million 2013-14 budget includes about $305,000 for ferry service and the extra money for the study. County Council is expected to approve the budget June 24. It will take effect July 1.
The county estimates it will have spent $255,600 on the ferry service this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Most days, J&W Corp. provides two round trips from Broad Creek Marina on Hilton Head Island to Daufuskie. The county is negotiating a new contract with the company that would continue the same service through next June.
"We are going to continue on for another year on the contract, is my understanding," said Wick Scurry, owner of J&W Corp.
Ferry service between Daufuskie and Hilton Head has been a source of tension for years. Haig Point property owners can ride the club's ferries to Hilton Head, but islanders living in the historic district must rely on the public ferry or private vessels to reach the mainland.
The public service, while not ideal, is a critical link for hundreds of island residents, says ferry advocate and Daufuskie resident Aaron Crosby. Nonetheless, the current service could include more trips per week and be better scheduled, he has said.
The availability of parking at Broad Creek Marina also is a problem, Crosby said.
Several studies through the years have prescribed a host of changes and enhancements to the ferry system, although all require more money than the county has budgeted.
Also, no companies other than J&W Corp. bid for the ferry contract in 2014, county community services director Morris Campbell has noted.
An attempt last fall to create a special purpose tax district on Daufuskie to raise money for ferry improvements was defeated in a referendum.
Kubic hopes the consultants can find solutions that both island residents and taxpayers will accept. He also is open to partnering with transportation agencies, such as Lowcountry Regional Transportation Authority and Chatham Area Transit, and says any successful model could include a connection to Savannah.
"We do believe strongly that there appears to be a logical connection with the city of Savannah and Daufuskie, so we need to take this project on," he said.
So far, the ferry budget proposal has not raised controversy among County Council members, and it is expected to be approved.
"Right now, it seems like there is always an issue with the ferry," said Councilman Tabor Vaux, whose district includes Daufuskie. "I would like to see a long-term solution ... so we can give investors and property owners more confidence."
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.
Tax increase proposed in Beaufort County budget, May 20, 2013