Street census is up, preferred list is down
In recent months the Steamship Authority (SSA) has seen a drop in the number of people who qualify for so-called preferred status which allows them to receive discounted excursion rates and preferred reservation spots.
The SSA requires Island residents to renew preferred status every two years. Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said that at the end of 2008 the SSA sent renewal notices to 4,670 customers, approximately half of the people now on the list. As of last count there were 3,431 renewals, he said.
Mr. Lamson said there could be a number of factors behind the drop. Year-round residents who qualify for the excursion rates may be away for the winter and have yet to renew, or the change in criteria could be having an effect.
The SSA last September changed the year-round residency criteria to require that residents of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket be listed on a town's so-called street list, an annual census of all the residents in a town compiled by the town clerk.
The change was made in response to a request from Nantucket town clerk Catherine Stover with support from Vineyard town clerks that the SSA use street lists in place of the SSA affidavit and copy of an applicant's license used to declare Island residency.
The street list is an annual account of all the residents in a town. But not every resident completes the annual street list, which functions as a census. Ms. Stover said that the change would prod people to sign up and provide a more accurate population count that could in turn result in a number of benefits that include increases in state and federal aid tied to populations.
This week, Ms. Stover told The Martha's Vineyard Times that since the presidential election in November Nantucket has lost 500 voters, dropping from just over 11,000 to 10,500. "As the economy started to drag, folks moved to other jurisdictions looking for work," she said. At the same time, she said she adds between three and eight new residents to the street list each day.
Ms. Stover said she has turned away at least 50 people who sought residency status but no longer live or vote on Nantucket. "We do know," she told The Martha's Vineyard Times, "that we've had at least 200 to 300 folks register who were getting the exemption before but weren't on the street list, maybe more."
Marion Mudge, Tisbury town clerk, said she has added several hundred people to the street list in response to the SSA policy change. Some of the new registrants are members of Martha's Vineyard's Brazilian population and others are long-time Islanders who had not previously been listed on the census. Ms. Mudge said that when it involves money and the ferry boats people are willing to sign up.
George Balco, Tisbury SSA port council member, said a drop in the number of people who qualify for discounted rates could have a favorable impact on the SSA's bottom line.