Steamship Authority books found in order

SSA gets high marks from auditor.

The Steamship Authority’s books are in order, an auditor reports. — Rich Saltzberg

Representatives of the auditing firm RSM told the Steamship Authority board at a special meeting Tuesday that the ferry lines’s books are in order. The news comes on the coattails of questions raised earlier in the year about access to SSA financial records, and what it might reveal — questions for which SSA board chair Jim Malkin took a drubbing from fellow board members in May. 

In a presentation made with colleagues, Dan Bonnette, a partner in the firm, said while the SSA had delays in reporting numbers for 2018 and 2019, required tweaks to some internal controls, and a modernization to an aspect of its pension calculus, the financial management of the ferry line remained sound. 

In accord with what treasurer Mark Rozum had outlined for the board at a previous meeting, Bonnette said mortality tables used for the SSA’s pension liability needed to be brought up to a new standard, and that took extra time to get done this year. On the last day of 2018, he also said, Rozum’s predecessor, Gerard Murphy, departed “right before the start of the audit process, in the middle of a system implementation” which “substantially delayed” that year’s audit. 

Part of the recent audit process, which he described as larger in scope this time around, was to make sure federal funds provided to the SSA were spent properly. He said they were, even though internal controls to manage the spending of those funds weren’t in place. 

“There were no issues with the numbers,” Bonnette said of SSA federal funds usage. “So the use of the numbers was absolutely appropriate.” 

Against the backdrop of the novel coronavirus, Bonnette said, he and his team had to gauge whether the SSA could continue to perform. 

“In normal circumstances we would never have any concern with the authority … Their reserves are always appropriate based on the statute, there’s always been sufficient resources available to deal with or address emergencies,” he said. “Unfortunately, the way the organization is structured, you can’t have any more reserves than are statutorily allowed, so you know, that provides some cushion but not enough cushion …”

Bonnette’s team tasked management to self-assess the ferry line’s prospects to remain fiscally stable for the coming year. His team then analyzed that assessment. “Based on their analysis and our audit of their analysis, we conclude that there are no issues and no concerns relative to the authority’s ability to continue as a going concern for the next 12 months,” he said. 

When asked by board member Kathryn Wilson to put the audit in context with the SSA’s numbers over the past half-decade, Bonnette said, “So what I can tell you is the authority has been very clean, very crisp, for a long time. It’s been very well-run, the audit’s been very well-run — on time for a number of years in a row — and we really sort of got hit by a bus when the treasurer retired … that really set things off the rails a little bit. It also happened to coincide with a system implementation, which is a major undertaking, no matter what size your organization. So management has really been getting battered for the better part of the last couple of years trying to deal with all of this turnover, all of this conversion — now COVID.” 

In the end, Bonnette praised Rozum and the SSA financial team for their work.