Update: Casco Bay Lines general manager resigns; PUC reviews ticket price hike

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PORTLAND — Catherine Debo, general manager of Casco Bay Lines for the past 2 1/2 years, submitted her resignation last week.

At the same time, the state is reviewing the ferry service’s request to raise ticket prices.

Donna Rockett, president of the Casco Bay Island Transit District, announced Debo’s resignation in an electronic newsletter June 25. The e-mail also included a letter from Debo to island residents.

Although Debo said the effective date of her resignation is Dec. 31, Rocket said Nicholas Mavodones, the ferry service’s operations manager, has been named interim general manager and Debo will stay on for the next six months in a limited capacity, but will not be in the Casco Bay Lines offices after July 10. Mavodones is also a Portland city councilor.

Debo said in her letter to islanders that family commitments are the reason she decided to resign.

“I have some family responsibilities I need to attend to,” Debo said this week.

Her resignation comes at a time when the ferry service is going through a Maine Public Utilities Commission review of its request to increase ticket prices. Casco Bay Lines on June 26 submitted answers to a list of questions posed by a PUC hearing examiner. 

Although the PUC approved raising rates for tickets as of May 1, the commission reserves the right to reverse that decision. The PUC received a petition from island residents requesting an investigation of the ferry line’s 2010 budget and rate increase.

“They submitted a petition and we responded,” Debo Tuesday. That response was followed by the questions from the examiner, and the Bay Lines responded to those, too. 

“I don’t anticipate there will be anything further,” Debo said. “This is the process.”

She said she expects the PUC will decide whether the rate request is reasonable by August, and expects it to be approved.

Among the examiner’s questions were a request for an explanation of Casco Bay Line’s “professional” expenses for 2006-2007. That was the year the ferry service had two Maine Human Rights Commission cases filed against it, and paid about $69,000 for attorney Pat Peard to analyze management of the ferry line. That report led to the resignation of former Bay Lines general manager Pat Christian, who Debo replaced.

The examiner also asked why the telephone costs at the ferry went up nearly 32 percent between 2008 and 2009, despite conversion to a system that was supposed to reduce the expenditures. The Bay Lines responded that it had combined its telephone and Internet costs and provided a break-out of that showed phone expenses went down.

Fluctuations in office expenses were explained in detail, too. For example, the ferry service stopped providing bottled water on vessels and free coffee for employees, for a combined savings of about $7,000.

Debo came under fire this spring from some islanders, who said ticket rate increases she proposed were too high. The CBITD board eventually voted to institute a lower rate hike than initially planned.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net