Monday, July 4, 2011

If You Think We Have Cut Government Spending ‘to the Bone’, You Need to Go Take the Elwell Ferry Across the Cape Fear River

We have heard a lot about budget cutbacks, budget reductions, 'slashing this' and 'slashing that' in our state and local budgets.

Nothing has happened at the federal level that could even be considered a tiny trimming of one hair split-end yet.

Could that be because state and local governments have to balance their budgets and the federal government does not yet have a Balanced Budget Amendment to the US Constitution?  Maybe we should get one and get one fast.

We are still barreling along at the ‘full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes!’ rate at the federal level, even with tons of warning signs screaming ‘Bridge Out!’ ahead.

Speaking of bridges, or the lack thereof,  that brings us to the Elwell Ferry in Bladen County, North Carolina.

Just like the lady on the Garmin GPS tracking device in our car which seemed to mysteriously and magically direct us to this wonderful, albeit anachronistic site landmark on the way to the beach.

Did the manufacturers of the Garmin GPS devices ever consider the fact that maybe men didn’t want another woman in the car telling them what to do and where to go when they are driving? Just something to consider.

We were heading to the beach and I was not paying a whole lot of attention to where we were going, as long as ‘Nora’ the Garmin GPS lady was telling us (me) where to go and when…. ‘Turn. Left. In. 200 yards. 100 yards…10 feet. TURN NOW, YOU MORON!

So we turned left and went past a turf farm, of all things, and soon found ourselves waiting for a ferry to take us across the mighty Cape Fear River. The ‘Cape of Fear’ earned its name as a graveyard of sorts from the Frying Pan Shoals that extends 28 miles beyond the cape of North Carolina beyond Bald Head Island where the Cape Fear River empties into the Atlantic Ocean beyond Wilmington.

Except the ‘mighty’ Cape Fear in Bladen County is about 75 yards across at the point we found it. George Washington could have thrown a football across the river here; we are not so sure about the Potomac story.

So we waited for the first car to be ferried across the river on the one-car ferry.

And waited for it to come back empty. And then the second one. We were 4th in line so we added up the time and figured it made more sense to go about 10 more miles down the road to take the modern multi-million dollar bridge across the widening Cape Fear at that point.

On the way to the bridge, it occurred to us that the ferry was not a toll ferry but a part of the NC Transportation system. Which means it was ‘free’ to cross. We didn’t see anyone collecting money on either side of the ferry stops.

After a little research, we found out that on a good day, perhaps 60 cars cross this quaint ferry that reminds people of days gone by. That has a lot of historical interest and value…but so does the animated Hall of Presidents at Disney World.

We couldn’t find the exact operating costs of the Elwell Ferry in the NC DOT budget line-item version so we just did a back of the envelope calculation and came up with rough estimate of $216,000 it might cost the NC taxpayer to keep the quaint and antiquated Elwell Ferry operational as part of the NC transportation highway system.

The cost could be $216,000 per year to run this anachronism from days gone by.  It could be $150,000.  it could be $100,000.

How much does it cost to hire a bright young teacher to teach in the local Elwell Ferry area schools?  The money that is being spent (wasted) on the Elwell Ferry could be perhaps better spent on 2, 3 or 4 teachers, couldn't it, just to name one option, one of the others being a tax refund, perhaps?

We figure it might cost $10 per car to pay for the ferry and the operational costs of the ferry with gasoline prices being what they are now. It could be $5/car or it could be $25/car, we don’t know.

But it strikes us as being a little bit disingenuous to be screaming about the ‘bloodthirsty budget cuts’ of the NC state legislature now dominated by the Republicans for the first time in 140 years (yes, you read that correctly….140 years) when there might be up to one-quarter of a million dollars going to operate an antiquated ferry that could and should be closed and people forced to go over the multi-million dollar bridge just down the road.

If anything, return the ferry to its toll-paying status. It is closer to a nostalgic ride in the Land of Yesteryear at Disneyland than it is to a crucial aspect of the statewide transportation system that all taxpayers have a stake in supporting.

We think there is a legitimate stake for every taxpayer in our nation’s defense; a smooth-riding and not-pothole-riddled national and state highway system and a great public education system. Thomas Jefferson realized early on that an uneducated electorate could not support the nascent democracy; never could in history and never will.

You think public education is expensive?  Try ignorance and a a totally uneducated populace and workforce. That would be disastrous for the American Republic.

But, seriously, has the budget been cut so to the bone that we can afford the luxury to still operate the Elwell Ferry at taxpayer’s expense when we have so many other big issues to confront and pay for?

We think not. There is more, much more that can be done at every level of government.

We do not think it is a fair statement to say that any federal, state or local budget is ‘cut to the bone’ and ‘old people will be tossed into the street’ and ‘every child is going to be denied a good education’ unless every scintilla of waste, fraud, abuse and questionable spending is eliminated from every government budget first.

The Elwell Ferry still operating in Bladen County, North Carolina in the Year of Our Lord 2011 is proof-positive we have not yet gotten to that point.

Here’s a concept to keep in mind: ‘If the expense benefits all Americans, such as national defense or a perfect interstate highway system (which Ike started as part of his vision of a ‘national defense’ rapid response system similar to the German Autobahn), then fund it from taxpayers expense. If not, pay for it out of local money or tolls, user fees, excise taxes from the people who use that service the most'.

The people who like to ride ferries will flock to the Elwell Ferry and gladly pay $5-$10 to ride it like it is a ride at Disney World.  But they should not be afforded that pleasure at the expense of the general taxpayer who is now struggling to make a living and pay his or her own taxes in the first place.

There is no 'cutting to the bone' yet in the state budget apparently.  Seems like there is still room to go.

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