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Date of Issue: July 01, 2009

Cities asked to share trolley costs

The Island’s elected officials will be discussing as early as this week whether to pledge funding to the campaign to keep the trolley fare-free.

The county commission, as it deals with major budget cuts, was asked to consider instituting a $1 daily fare for the trolley.

But a campaign introduced in mid-June by Island businessman David Teitelbaum put the county on a different route.

Teitelbaum, in a campaign called Save Our Trolley, has proposed that the system continue to operate partially subsidized by local governments, but also with funds raised with an annual festival, a donation box and the sale of naming rights and advertising.

“Lots of support is coming in,” Teitelbaum said last week.

For fiscal year 2010, which begins in October, Teitelbaum proposed that each of the Island cities contribute $8,000 to the trolley operation, the Manatee County Tourist Development Council would contribute $26,000 and the county would provide $50,000 in funding.

For fiscal year 2011, the Island cities each would contribute $10,000, while the Manatee County Tourist Development Council would provide $40,000 and fundraising would contribute $50,000 toward the $900,000 operation of the trolley to relieve county taxpayers of some burden.

Teitelbaum said county administrator Ed Hunzeker and County Commissioner John Chappie, who has said he does not support a fare on the trolley, planned to talk with Island mayors this week about SOT.

Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach officials also are expected to address the trolley funding at meetings in the coming weeks.

On July 2, Bradenton Beach City Commission is expected to discuss trolley funding, including an application to the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization for funding assistance.

The trolley system, which operates from the city pier in Anna Maria to Coquina Beach, provides service to stops about every 20 minutes.

About 60 percent of the riders are local residents and a primary purpose of the trolley was to reduce traffic congestion, according to Manatee County Area Transit.

But from its start on March 18, 2002, the trolley served as a tourist attraction, a no-hassle — and free — way for vacationers to see the Island from one end to the other.

The trolley was to be free at least for the first year, but county commissioners at the time had hopes to pay for the trolley with grants and revenue from advertisements to keep the trolley free — at least through 2003. The trolley has remained free to riders, even after the county began facing major budget challenges two years ago.

Teitelbaum presented the SOT idea at a county budget hearing in mid-June and found county commissioners and Hunzeker receptive.

“I know we can get enough money to pay for this,” said County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who has said she is committed to a fare-free trolley.