Mississippi County news
CHARLESTON -- Taking a car or truck across the Mississippi River on the Dorena-Hickman Ferry will now cost a dollar more.
Mississippi County Commissioners approved a $1 fuel surcharge during their regular meeting Thursday after discussing the idea with ferry officials.
The fuel surcharge will apply to every vehicle for each trip across the river. "If its got a motor and it rolls, it pays," said Captain Stephen P.J. Stanionis, who pilots the ferry for S.T.A.M. Marine Enterprises.
The ferry's toll schedule will remain unchanged, according to Stanionis. Reduced fare coupons will be charged the $1 surcharge for each coupon at the time of purchase. Free ferry pass holders are not exempt and will be charged at the time of passage.
Stanionis, Kenny George, chairman of the Mississippi County Port Authority Board, and Leon Steinbrueck, project manager, explained the surcharge is needed due to the high cost of diesel fuel.
Diesel fuel has been about $3.50 per gallon from a vendor across the river that is located close to the ferry's Hickman, Ky., landing or as high as $3.70 from Delta Growers Association which adds a delivery charge to take it to Dorena, according to Stanionis.
Stanionis said fuel has become one of the most significant costs of running the ferry. "Fuel is within a couple thousand dollars of labor now," he said.
The ferry operates on a fiscal year that runs from July 1 through June 30. After the first eight months of this fiscal year, the ferry has already used $56,000 in diesel fuel.
Stanionis said as the ferry carries about 20,000 vehicles per year, the surcharge will bring in about $20,000 or between $1,500 and $1,800 per month.
Before approving the surcharge, Presiding Commissioner Jim Blumenberg asked if it would be better to just raise the fares. The toll schedule was last changed in July 2005 to account for higher fuel costs.
Stanionis said fares are split between S.T.A.M. Marine Enterprises and the Port Authority. George noted the Port Authority's half of fares "go right back into the boat." The fuel surcharge will go directly toward fuel purchases, however.
Stanionis said while the costs of operation are going up overall, "we have not received any appreciable increase in subsidies for several years."
The annual operating budget for the ferry is $290,000, according to Stanionis. "We run out of money every year," he said.
Ferry officials said the ferry operation needs $80,000 to cover a new motor for the tugboat and should be spending about $50,000 a year in maintenance but can't afford it.
"All I can do now is fix what breaks," Stanionis said.
"We can't charge enough to break even," Steinbrueck said. "Nobody would ever ride it."
Stanionis said the fuel surcharge will be in effect when the ferry returns to operation as the river is too high to operate now.
He said the river's crest is predicted to arrive Monday after which the river is expected to drop after another week. "A lot of it has to do with how much (water) they let out of the dams," he said.
Commissioners also reappointed George to another three-year term on the Port Authority Board. The new term will begin in July.
In other business Thursday, county officials will photograph county roads that are under water in the hopes it will improve the county's chances of receiving federal and state disaster relief.
"It's a mess out there," Blumenberg said. "We're going to try to get a grant for gravel ... Anything would help."
The federal declaration as a disaster area could mean more help for the county than the state disaster declaration would bring, Blumenberg said.
"We just need to document everything," he said. "We need to get pictures from every angle."
County Clerk Junior DeLay said his office has been receiving updates from the Missouri Department of Transportation about state road closings and openings.
"There's a lot of roads closed in southeast Missouri," he said.