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Trolley fare could be put on hold

BRADENTON — The Manatee County commissioners heard Thursday from some of the taxpayers on where to cut or not cut next year’s budget.

One island resident may have won the panel over when it comes to not charging a fee to ride the Anna Maria Island Trolley.

Bradenton Beach resort owner David Teitelbaum, who serves on the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, asked the commissioners to consider the idea, which the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce supports, to raise the funds to reduce the taxpayer subsidy to keep the trolley free.

“We have a multi-tier program,” Teitelbaum said, “and a very large opportunity to do many things.”

The Save Our Trolley, plan included putting a donation box with a sign on the trolley.

The document Teitelbaum handed out estimated collecting between $18,250 a year at $10 a day to $182,500 a year at $100 a day from each of the five buses.

The plan also called for providing sponsorships for naming rights on each of the trolleys, which could raise another $40,000.

A donor program was another method suggested to raise funds, with an expected total of $11,500.

The most ambitious project the Save Our Trolley group offered was an island-wide festival like the Cortez Fishing Festival, which collects $50,000-$60,000 each year for the FISH Preserve.

“We know how to do festivals,” Teitelbaum said. “It’ll be a two-day blowout.”

The festival would include food and drink vendors, restaurant cookoff contests, arts and crafts show, auction and raffles, music and entertainment, parades, boat races, skimboard, surf-fishing and swimming contests, and many other activities.

The Save Our Trolley plan was developed after County Administrator Ed Hunzeker proposed in the 2009-10 budget to charge $1 a day to ride the trolley.

The island trolley service is funded with state and federal grant money, except for about $100,000, which is paid with $8,000 from each of the three island cities, $26,000 from the hotel bed tax, and $50,000 from county operating funds.

Hunzeker said Thursday at the public hearing considering the Save our Trolley group’s plan he would recommend the commissioners continue the $50,000 subsidy for one more year until the group can get organized to raise the funds.

If the island group can raise $60,000 for the 2010-11 budget, the county administrator said he would recommend the Tourist Development Council increase its contribution to $40,000 to make up the $100,000 shortfall, based on the reported 40 percent of the trolley ridership being tourists.

Three other residents spoke at the public hearing, voicing their concerns about budget cuts and fee increases.

Dr. Craig Trigueiro, who serves on the Sheriff’s Advisory Board, said he would like the commissioners to increase the budget for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

“Public safety comes before parks, libraries or landscaping in medians,” Trigueiro said. “I don’t think you need to raise taxes, I think you need to make cuts in other areas of government.”

Linda Jentsch was concerned about the proposed increase in fees for the tennis center, while Deborah Porter, who worked for the county for 35 years before retiring, asked the commissioners not to raise the amount retirees have to pay for the premiums on their health care plans.

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