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Date of Issue: August 09, 2007

Free trolley may continue if Islanders off some aid

Island cities are being asked to pony up some money for the free ride on the Manatee Trolley.

Manatee County officials are facing a set of major budget cuts to meet state mandates of cutting back property tax levies. One of the cuts includes an estimated $50,000 shortfall for the Manatee Trolley, the free system that shuttles passengers from Bradenton Beach to Anna Maria seven days a week.

To offset the shortfall for the trolley, based on county budget cuts, offers have been proffered which have included a fee for riders. Last week, county officials asked Islanders to cough up some money to keep the trolley free, and, at least in Bradenton Beach, the response was positive.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said the county has asked if the Island cities are willing to contribute $8,000 each next year to keep the trolley running “free” without charge to riders. The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce would contribute another $1,000, and the county’s tourist development council the remaining $25,000.

“It seems that $8,000 is a good trade-off,” Chappie said.

“We need to come up with our commitment,” Commissioner Janie Robertson said.

Bradenton Beach city commissioners gave tacit approval of the funding request to keep the trolley free, subject to more information to be presented at the Aug. 16 commission meeting.

“Everyone knows the benefit of a free trolley,” said Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino.

The Holmes Beach Commission is not scheduled to meet until Aug. 28, so Zaccagnino hopes the board can hold a special meeting to discuss finding $8,000 to keep the trolley free.

“It’s a Band-Aid fix, a patch, until they figure out something next,” said Zaccagnino, who is concerned that creating a fare system for the trolley would put more vehicles on Island roads and diminish tourism. He has said that $1 a day also could be a hardship for those on a fixed or limited income.

In Anna Maria, city treasurer Diane Percycoe said Mayor Fran Barford had instructed her to add $8,000 to the 2007-08 budget. The money will likely come from the city’s contingency fund, Percycoe indicated.