In case you were in the camp that believed that $41 million was an obscenely large annual budget to run a Ferry system that takes in around $2.5 million a year, recent investigations into wrongdoings and increased public attention may cause the Ferry Divisions finances to go under some long overdue scrutiny.
An investigation is currently underway by state authorities into allegations of inflated salaries, reckless spending, and nepotism revealed by former ferry director, Harold Finch. According to authorities at the DOT, there is some truth to the allegations. The DOT has revoked the Ferry Division’s ability to hire workers while the investigation is in progress.
Confirmed incidents of nepotism by NCDOT Ferry Division staff and seemingly bloated salaries were the first incriminating details to surface in this saga of government waste and corruption. An assistant to a senior ferry official was found to have used tax payer money for her own benefit in hiring both her husband and her sister to work with her in Manns Harbor. The husband and sister have since been relocated to work on Ferry Division sites in Hatteras and Currituck. Another incident of seemingly nepotistic behavior centered around Operations Manager of the Cedar Island Ferry Cindy Austin, whose son and sister were coincidentally hired in May.
NCDOT officials are claiming that all 600 Ferry Division employees will be inspected for any improprieties in hiring.
Finch also made serious claims of wasteful spending practices perpetrated by the Ferry Division. He stated that the Ferry Division would spend without regard to budgetary constraints, and simply ask the General Assembly for more when money ran out. Indeed, recent history has shown an explosion in the Ferry Division’s budget. Annual expenditures for the Ferry Division in the 2003-2004 budget came to about $20 million and has grown almost every year since. This year, both the House and Senate agreed to an $11 million increase in funding, bringing the annual Ferry Division budget to a shocking $41 million.
One area of bloating can be found in the exorbitant amount of overtime pay many workers receive. The inspector general reports that the Ferry Division pays $2.8 million in overtime. This is a consequence of the Ferry workers’ 12-hour schedules, but Finch finds many cases of overtime to be quite farfetched. Finch supported his claim by pointing to one worker who had received 113 hours of overtime pay during a 160-hour pay period. That would average out to twenty days of working nearly 14 hours in a single month; it seems the Ferry Division is a veritable sweat shop.
This incident is truly lamentable for all North Carolinians, as the Ferry Division’s questionable practices are supported by all tax payers in the state. Even if you live nowhere near a Ferry, and never even plan to use one, you financially underwrite their misconduct by filling up at the pump. This is because the Ferry Division is financed through the state’s Highway Fund. This Fund gets its income mostly from the state gas tax and fees like motor vehicle registration. North Carolina motorists, however, should remember this next time they are stuck in traffic: tens of millions of your gas tax dollars and motor vehicle fees are diverted from road and highway construction to the government-run, wasteful and nepotistic, ferry service. This may seem especially concerning to the vast majority of North Carolinians who don’t live anywhere near the coast.
The Ferry Division must not be allowed to encumber North Carolinians any longer. Tossing more money into the fiscal black hole won’t help them become anymore financially sound, and it certainly does not encourage them to be any more scrupulous or frugal. North Carolinians need to recognize the deep-seated problems with this malfunctioning organ of bureaucracy and reign it in. One very promising option to consider would be privatization of this service, thus precluding their currently permitted luxury of wastefulness. One way or another, the Ferry Division needs to be heavily scrutinized to root out any vestige of waste and corruption, especially in the context of the state’s current financial woes.