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Date of Issue: June 03, 2009

Proposed budget calls for $1 trolley pass

Property owners might see taxes cut in Manatee County in the new fiscal year, but residents might also see fees and fares increase.

The Island trolley fare, for example, might go from zero to $1 a day in fiscal year 2010, which begins in October.

Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker delivered his budget message and preliminary 2010 budget to county commissioners May 28, outlining how the government can slash $33.7 million to deal with a significant decline in revenues.

The county will cut costs by eliminating 82 positions, many of them vacancies, but some held by workers.

The county also will cut operating expenses to have a balanced $497 million budget.

And, Hunzeker said, the county will need to increase fees.

For local transit services, Hunzeker outlined a plan he said would allow for the county bus system and trolley to continue to operate without using reserves or reducing services.

The plan includes a $1 day pass for the Island trolley, using a greater portion of federal grant funds for operating expenditures and reducing the operating budget to reflect lower fuel costs.

While the plan calls for riders to pay to ride the trolley, it would not require Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach or Holmes Beach to contribute to the trolley budget, as the cities did this fiscal year.

“The contributions to the trolley from the tourist development tax and from the Island municipalities are recommended to be discontinued in fiscal year 2010 since the proposed trolley fare will supplant those contributions,” Hunzeker said in his budget message.

However, Hunzeker also said the county attorney is looking into the legality of using tourist tax money for the trolley, “which could provide the commission with an alternative to the $1 fee.”

Hunzeker said fiscal year 2011 also will be a difficult year to address transit issues, in part because grants for the trolley will have expired, creating “a revenue loss for the program” that “may require service-level reductions.”

Hunzeker’s preliminary spending plan, which will be reviewed through a series of meetings this summer, also contains a $92.5 million budget for the sheriff’s office that is $4.5 million less than this year.

The MCSO, which contracts with Anna Maria to provide law enforcement in the city and works with the Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach police departments, is proposed to eliminate 12 vacant positions, reduce overtime, cut operating expenses by $1.3 million and trim $1.8 million by deferring purchases of new vehicles, radios and in-car computer systems.

For the natural resources department, which is involved with improvements in Neal and Perico preserves, as well as the operation of the Kingfish Boat Ramp and Robinson Preserve, the proposed budget does not contain personnel cuts.

However, with the planned opening of two new parks — Jiggs Landing and Pine Island and no new hires allowed — personnel likely will be reassigned.

In the parks department, which is involved in the maintenance and operation of Bayfront Park in Anna Maria, Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach and Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach, Hunzeker said six positions will be eliminated.

This will “cause moderate reductions in general park maintenance activities,” Hunzeker said.

The county’s information services, which runs the public libraries, will lose one position under Hunzeker’s budget that will result in shorter hours at the Central Library in Bradenton.

The proposed budget did not detail any cuts at the Island Branch Library in Holmes Beach, where positions have been eliminated and hours reduced in the past.

Hunzeker said that the new budget will reflect the addition of a fifth cent in the tourist development tax and “the proposed uses for the revenue generated from the additional penny will be presented in a budget work session.”

For property owners, the administrator’s budget recommends keeping the countywide property tax rate at $6.30 for every $1,000 of assessed value.