The annual financial audit for the Steamship Authority turned up no irregularities and showed the boat line has been on solid financial footing for the past two years, board members learned this week.
“We conclude that there are no issues and no concerns relative to the ability of the authority to continue as a going concern,” said Dan Bonnette of Boston-based audit, tax and consulting firm RSM, LLC, during an online conference with board and senior managers Tuesday morning.
“There was nothing that came up as a result of the audit process that was unexpected, other than the impacts of Covid, which I think caught everybody flat-footed, obviously,” the accountant said.
The audit covered the years 2018 and 2019; the 2018 report was delayed when the unexpected departure of treasurer-comptroller Gerard Murphy for family reasons coincided with the same time a new accounting system was being introduced.
“We really were hit by a bus when the treasurer retired,” Mr. Bonnette said. “You couldn’t throw any more curve balls than we’ve had to hit over the last year.”
With Mr. Murphy’s replacement, Mark Rozum, firmly in position, Mr. Bonnette said he expects the late-audit finding will not be repeated next year.
“I anticipate we are over those hurdles,” he told the board. “The system implementation is nearly done at this point . . . I really feel that we’re back on a solid footing, presuming Covid doesn’t beat us up too badly.”
The audit gives a detailed report on the boat line’s financial position, which y all accounts has been sound for the past two years. Operating revenues in 2019 totaled $110.6 million, up 5.6 per cent over the previous year.
The audit breaks down the authority’s main source of operating revenues into categories: cars (29.8 per cent), freight (29.4 per cent), passengers (28 per cent) and parking (6.5 per cent).
Expenses go primarily toward payroll (56.1 per cent), followed by vessel maintenance, fuel, depreciation and insurance.
Most of the payroll costs are spent on operations (43.6 per cent), terminals and parking lots (26.4 per cent) and maintenance (15.6 per cent), followed by administration (10.9 per cent) and reservations and customer service (3.5 per cent).
The 2019 audit was more rigorous than recent years because the boat line received federal port security grants totaling more than $750,000, the threshold for further scrutiny of how the funds were handled.
“We do additional testing around the grant itself, to make sure the dollars were spent consistently with the federal government’s expectations,” Mr. Bonnette said. “We also look at the internal controls related to the expenditure of those grant dollars.”
The audit found that the SSA used and recorded the funds appropriately, Mr. Bonnette said.
For a brief time late this spring the audit became a point of contention when newly-appointed Vineyard governor James Malkin suggested there might be a problem after he said he had asked for a copy of the audit and was told it was unavailable.
Mr. Malkin’s remarks earned him harsh condemnation from his fellow board members at a public meeting in May, who said the audit simply had been delayed, for routine reasons.
The heat has since cooled, and the audit had not been discussed again until this week.
In other business Tuesday, governors voted to award a $366,659 contract for parts and equipment needed to overhaul two diesel engines aboard the ferry Martha’s Vineyard.
Engine work is performed based on hours of operation, general manager Robert Davis said, explaining why the diesels were not overhauled during the vessel’s mid-life refurbishment in early 2018.
“The engines were not up for renewal at that time,” Mr. Davis said.
The overhaul will be performed by SSA employees using parts and equipment from Marine Systems Inc., of Chesapeake, Va., Mr. Davis said.