NANTUCKET— Beginning next spring, Islanders can expect seasonal hikes in Steamship Authority vehicle fares and Falmouth parking rates as the boat line seeks to nourish a projected 2019 net surplus of just over $141,000.

The exact number is $141,096 — “a measly 0.1 per cent surplus” on an operating budget of more than $105 million, chief financial officer Gerard Murphy told the boat line board of governors Tuesday morning as he introduced the first draft of the 2019 budget.

“We’re cutting it pretty close,” Mr. Murphy said. “We need more of a cushion,” in case of unforeseen expenses.

To bolster the threadbare surplus, Mr. Murphy proposes to raise $7 million through a series of seasonal fare hikes that would affect only vehicles traveling in the summer. Some $4.5 million of the total would come from increases on the Vineyard route and $2.5 million would come from the Nantucket route.

The 2019 margin is exceptionally slim for several reasons, Mr. Murphy and SSA general manager Robert Davis said.

Nantucket governor Robert Ranney (left) and Vineyard governor Marc Hanover. — Louisa Hufstader

Number one is the cost of fuel, which Mr. Murphy estimates will cost the boat line upward of 29 per cent more than in 2018.

“We’re looking at a fairly drastic increase” over 2018 costs, he said. Not only has this been a year in which many vessels were out of service far longer than expected, skewing the year-over-year comparison, but Mr. Murphy predicts a jump in crude oil prices in 2019.

Scheduled maintenance on the aging fleet also weighs heavily on the operating budget, with costly mandated engine overhauls and other vessel repairs that can reveal hidden costs — such as the extent of deteriorating steelwork discovered aboard the M/V Martha’s Vineyard during its mid-life refurbishment in 2017 — once work begins.

“When we build the budget, it’s 18 months out when we estimate expenses,” Mr. Murphy said. “A lot can change when we’re looking at dry docks and what we need to do to a vessel 18 months out.”

Meanwhile, reconstruction costs for the Woods Hole terminal continue to stack up, with the governors Tuesday unanimously approving a $237,275 change order for updates to the design of the public plaza surrounding the new terminal building.

Personnel costs also account for their share of the erosion in net revenue. Mr. Murphy said he expects overall compensation to increase by 3.1 per cent over 2018. And the payroll is growing. Early in Tuesday’s meeting, the governors unanimously approved a new position managing an operations and communications office in Falmouth that will be staffed by up to four people 365 days a year.

Complicating the financial picture is the fact that the Steamship Authority must base its operating budget strictly on projected revenue and expenses — no surplus can be carried over from one year to the next.

“What occurred this year has no effect on what we’re projecting for next year, except the traffic numbers,” Mr. Davis said.

And while Mr. Davis told the governors 2018 has been the third-busiest season in boat line history — even with the service disruptions of March, April and May — Mr. Murphy gave a mixed forecast for next year.

“We’re not looking at negative growth,” he said, but he is projecting slightly fewer automobiles on the ferries and in the Falmouth lots, with slight increases in passengers and trucks on the Vineyard run.

Seasonal increases only

Passenger fares, including bicycle and board rates, remain unchanged in Mr. Murphy’s proposal. For Vineyard travelers, passage is $8 for walk-on passengers, $4 extra for bicycles and surf, sail and paddle boards and $8 for tandem and trailer bikes. The state-mandated embarkation fee adds 50 cents to each of these fares.

Boat line board held its monthly meeting at the Nantucket Whaling Museum. — Louisa Hufstader

Off-season excursion rates for Islanders are also untouched under the plan Mr. Murphy presented Tuesday in the Discovery Room of the Nantucket Whaling Museum.

But from the beginning of April to the end of October, all regular Vineyard passenger-vehicle fares would increase by $11.50 each way: from $68.50 to $80 for cars and trucks less than 17 feet in length and from $78.50 to $90 those longer than 17 feet. Ten-ride books would go from $610 to $720.

A smaller increase of $3 each way, during a shorter time frame, is proposed for Vineyard excursion vehicle fares, which are limited to Island residents. From May 15 to Sept. 14, the new seasonal rate would bring a round trip to $100 for vehicles under 17 feet, $120 for those between 17 and 20 feet and $130 for 20 feet and longer.

Mr. Murphy estimates the total added revenue for automobile traffic at $2.5 million. To gain $1.5 million from freight traffic, Mr. Murphy is proposing to hike truck rates by 12.5 per cent.

Falmouth parking rates, now $15 per day, would go to $20 on Saturdays and Sundays from May 15 to Sept. 14, bringing in another $500,000.

Nantucket travelers would see their regular automobile rates go up $25 each way from April through October, bringing a round trip to $450 for smaller vehicles and $500 for those 17 feet and longer. Six-ride passes with a two-year expiration date would jump from $1,020 to $1,150 and six-ride passes with no expiration date would go from $1,200 to $1,350.

Nantucket excursion fares would also rise from mid-May to mid-September and commercial vehicles face the same 12.5 per cent increase planned for Vineyard freight.

Mr. Murphy displayed a graph showing that even with the latest proposed hikes, Steamship Authority fare increases have lagged the consumer price index consistently. Vineyard governor Marc Hanover said the boat line may need to review how it applies rate increases.

“Port council management and this board should sit down and discuss whether we should be following the consumer price index, instead of every four or five years having a 12 per cent rate increase,” Mr. Hanover said.

Governors will take up the budget and proposed rate increases at their next regular meeting in October.

In other business Tuesday, governors approved easing the policy on half-price excursion trips for Islanders with ongoing health problems that require frequent appointments on the mainland. Instead of 10 appointments in three months, patients will only need five appointments.

Mr. Davis said the boat line will keep track of patients who request the half-price trips but don’t meet the five-appointment threshold, to see if the policy will need to be modified further.