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Date of Issue: June 24, 2009

Save Our Trolley campaign proposed

An Island-based effort to keep the trolley operating fare-free is getting a test drive with Manatee County officials.

Island businessman David Teitelbaum, a member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and a director on the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce board, proposed a Save Our Trolley campaign and a series of ideas to keep the trolley fare-free for years into the future.

County administrator Ed Hunzeker has recommended in the budget for fiscal year 2010, which begins in October, that riders pay a $1 a day fare for the trolley.

The trolley costs about $900,000 a year to operate and was started with grant funding that will not continue indefinitely, Hunzeker said.

“In my opinion, it needs to stay free,” Teitelbaum said.

He presented his ideas briefly to the TDC June 15. He also presented them to the Manatee County Board of Commissioners during a budget hearing June 18, at which the board and Hunzeker seemed supportive of a test drive of SOT.

The proposal involves a series of fundraisers to support a fare-free trolley, but for the fiscal year 2010, which begins in October, the trolley still would be subsidized in part by the county, the TDC and the three Island cities.

For the past two years, the TDC has contributed $26,000 to the trolley operation, the three Island cities have each contributed $8,000 and the county has contributed $50,000 to the pool of trolley operation funds, which also includes grants and tax dollars.

Teitelbaum proposed that those TDC, county and city contributions continue for another year. The proposed two-year budget for the TDC does not presently include trolley funding.

In fiscal year 2011, Teitelbaum proposed that the TDC contribute $40,000 toward the fare-free trolley, each of the Island cities contribute $10,000 and fundraisers generate $50,000, relieving the county taxpayers of some of the burden.

The fundraising ideas include a two-day festival to raise money for the trolley. Teitelbaum noted that the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage raises thousands for the FISH Preserve with the two-day Cortez Fishing Festival each February.

The SOT proposal suggested calling the event the Real Florida Festival and holding activities Islandwide on a weekend in March. A two-day festival pass would cost $5 or a family pass would cost $10, with revenues estimated at more than $60,000.

Other fundraisers might include a donation box on the trolley, the sale of naming rights and a donor recognition program.

“I think the money is here,” said Island businessman and TDC board member Ed Chiles, indicating that Island business leaders would probably donate to a SOT campaign, as would riders.

“We could put a donation box on the trolley, a lock box, and everybody who wants to put a buck in puts a buck in,” Chiles said.

Teitelbaum said that naming rights might guarantee promotions for a donor on the back of the trolley, the sides of the trolley or possibly two flags on the trolley. For example, $3,000 annual donations for promotions on the back of the five trolleys would generate $15,000.

At least two county commissioners have stated their support for maintaining a fare-free trolley — Carol Whitmore, an at-large member of the board and Holmes Beach resident, and John Chappie, who represents the Island and lives in Bradenton Beach.

“I’m very near and dear to the trolley,” said Whitmore, adding that data indicates that about 400,000 people ride the trolley each year and 60 percent of them are local residents.

A poll on www.islander.org found that about 52 percent of people support a fare on the trolley.

A random on-the-street survey on the Island last week found six out of 10 people opposing a fare.

A survey in Bradenton found nine out of 10 people supported a fare.

Hunzeker said he would recommend the SOT proposal and that the county continue its $50,000 subsidy for another year, but he stressed that whatever is put into place must “be for the long-run. It would be imprudent to take this one year at a time from the county’s perspective.”

Hunzeker also stressed that the county must be able to provide transit riders on the mainland with a rationale for free public transportation on the Island.

 

The Islander asked its Internet readers to answer: Do you favor a $1 fare on the Island trolley?

The poll results, as of June 19, were:

Yes: 51.8 percent

No: 48.2 percent

The number of votes was 357.

The Island trolley makes a stop at Coquina Beach. The county has proposed a $1 daily fare. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

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