Chappy committee: ‘Somebody needs to look at the books’

Committee discussed Chappy Ferry fare hikes and future ownership.

The Edgartown select board will take up the proposed Chappy Ferry fare hikes at their Monday meeting. — Rich Saltzberg

The Chappy steering committee met Tuesday evening to discuss procuring a third-party consultant to help identify the benefits and detriments of proceeding with either private or public ownership of the Chappy Ferry. 

Committee chair Rick Schifter noted at their last meeting the committee voted unanimously to engage a third party, but details regarding scope of work still need to be hammered out. He questioned committee members about whether opinions have changed about following through with that process.

“I don’t think there’s any alternative,” committee member Tom Tilghman said Tuesday. He said a professional review would need to not only look at the pros and cons of different types of ownership, but would also need to get a more complete picture of the ferry operation’s finances.

“Somebody needs to look at the books,” he said, “and it has to be done in a way that people have confidence in the way it was done, and the results are believable.” He said he doubts that a committee or subcommittee can achieve a result that wouldn’t be questioned. 

“Unless we have something that is professionally done, and has credibility to it,” Tilghman said, “nobody’s going to believe the results.”

Schifter confirmed that an assessment via thorough review would “require access to the financial information that ultimately Peter [Wells] and Sally [Snipes] would need to consent to share.”

He suggested that review of the ferry’s finances be included in the scope of work, and asked Chappy Ferry co-owner Peter Wells if he would consent to pursuing that. Wells agreed. 

On the proposed fare increase that was discussed at the committee’s last meeting, Schifter said the Edgartown select board will take up the hikes at their Monday meeting. 

Committee member Bill Brine said that despite comments from Wells at the previous meeting, the committee has “determined that the ferry operator is not in danger of going bankrupt, and is not in peril, as reported in the newspapers and as reported in his letter … he will make it through the winter just fine.” 

Brine said Wells has “a $100,000 line of credit to get him through emergency situations.” 

He reiterated that the select board ought to be informed of that. “We should point that out to them,” Brine said, “and correct [Wells’] last statements.”

Wells questioned which statements Brine was referring to.

“In the newspaper and the open meeting, you said you weren’t going to make it through the winter unless you got a pay raise,” Brine said, to which Wells replied, “I said I need this to get through the winter, you can put any spin on that you want.” 

“The revenue has not kept up with the expenses,” Wells said, “we’re trying to be proactive about it.” He pointed out that a report by a third-party assessor previously found that the ferry operation’s expenses were “16 percent over revenue.”

Upon questioning from committee members about said report, Schifter noted that the full report had not been shared with the committee. 

“I think we make those two points clear to the select board,” Brine said, “that we have not seen that report, and that Peter is going to make it through the winter.” 

“I make it through the winter, because I make it through everything,” Wells commented.

Committee member Rick Biros noted the proposed 15 percent fare increases are permanent, and that the hikes are “not just to get through the winter … to get through the winter is one thing, but then we get into the spring and summer, and we’re still living with a 15 percent increase.”

“You guys want me to run the ferry or not?” Wells said. “I got stuff I have to do, I have to build a new ramp this winter … I need money if I’m going to do that.” He added that $25,000 has recently been spent on the rebuilding of an engine. 

Biros said he understands that Wells needs to fund certain operational costs, but it’s important to “understand where the money is going” now and in the future.

“No one is debating the reliability and the expert service that you provide,” Biros said. “I would go on record and say the reliability and service is outstanding.”

Considering that the Chappy Ferry is an “odd hybrid” of a private/public operation, Biros said, the committee just wants to “ensur[e] that a rate increase is justified.”

He said the committee is charged with carrying out its fidiuciary responsibilities to the community.


  1. Every time I hear the talk about the town running the ferry it makes me nervous. Let Peter make some money and whoever will purchase it make some money and keep it off the town books.

  2. I loudly applaud the committee for doing the fiscal due diligence that is being reported today. If you, as ferry owner, are asking for more money, you need to be completely transparent and truthful about finances. Transparency means accurate numbers, perhaps from third-party accounting. If you’re telling a true story, the numbers should make the picture even clearer that price hikes are necessary.

  3. I love how a beaurocrat can tell someone running a business that is essential for the residents of Chappy that they are doing fine, and can use their credit card for a while before they are completely destitute.
    That’s as callous as it gets.
    If it goes to a new private business, the Chappy residents will pay through the nose for the service and tourist will pay more– no problem, they can afford it and some enterprising capitalist will create some jobs.

    If it is run by a government agency, it will be poorly administered and more expensive in the long run. But the taxpayers in western Mass will pick up the tab, and subsidize the residents and tourists of Chappy. Sort of like a ebt card for the people who own multi million dollar properties on an ultra exclusive island.
    But if it really gets too expensive for them, they can just go back and forth on their helicopters.
    Have I offended everyone yet ?
    If not, please let me know who I missed.
    Ok– I know– there are poor people everywhere.

  4. Just think of our SSA, publicly funded and run. Price hikes almost yearly, new and unnecessary huge boats bringing volumes of vehicles, new terminals, new parking lots, new docks, new, new, new.
    Let the Edgartown take over the ferry and Norton point, maybe they can then figure out how to pave over the beach and get to Chappy the long way.

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