Manatee County beach bus braked; stormwater pipes prove costly

MANATEE -- There are a lot of needs in Manatee County without a way to pay for them, Public Works Department Director Ron Schulhofer told the Manatee County Commission on Wednesday.

"We have a lot of infrastructure needs out there but we don't have a revenue sources," he said during a budget presentation. "I'll be back every year asking for more and more because we discover more and more of the pipes."

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker is recommending an additional $100,000 for stormwater pipe rehabilitation. Even with the additional money added to $500,000 already earmarked for repairs, Schulhofer said there are more deteriorated pipes than can be repaired annually with the current budget. He said he doesn't know the total amount necessary because they keep discovering more problems.

Impact fees pay for new infrastructure, but commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac reiterated they "can't charge new development for replacement in urban core where it is failing."

For those looking for more buses to the beach, Hunzeker is not recommending funding in the proposed $51 million public works budget to increase bus service on Manatee County Area Transit Route 3, which runs down Manatee Avenue between Interstate 75 and the beaches. The route runs every 60 minutes and expansion would increase frequency to 30 minutes. Hunzeker is also not recommending funding for additional service to Lakewood Ranch in 2017. County officials discussed the route expansion at a January commission meeting. Commissioners flagged both items for future discussion.

The department has already received grant money for the expansion, which requires a local match from Manatee County. Schulhofer said four buses have already been ordered in anticipation of the expansion.

"We've had all of this investment and it just goes away," Benac said.

Schulhofer said the MCAT route expansion would be another "tool in the toolbox for congestion."

"This is all part of the master picture we are walking down the road toward," he said.

Benac said they must address congestion with answers other than building new roads.

"We cannot continue to just build new roads and build our way out of the growth and congestion we have in the urban area," she said.

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.