HOLMES BEACH – Members of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council who favor keeping the trolley system free on Anna Maria Island announced a new campaign on Monday.
"Save Our Trolley" is a cooperative effort among Island residents, city and county governments, visitors and the business community to raise money for the trolley system, TDC member and Island hotelier David Teitelbaum said.
A two-day Island-themed festival in March similar to the successful Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival could raise funds for the trolley, he suggested, with multiple land and water-based parades, music events, art shows, food stands, carnival rides, boat races, bike races on closed streets, skimboard contests, fishing contests, home tours and fireworks.
Other fundraising options include county subsidies for 40 percent of the trolley costs ($40,000) based on usage, subsidies from the three Island cities ($10,000 each), donation boxes on the trolleys and sponsorship opportunities to name the trolleys for a year. Forty percent of trolley riders are tourists, while 60 percent are residents, according to the group.
TDC member and Island restaurateur Ed Chiles suggested raising money from donors and recognizing their contributions on signs in the trolley.
"We’re just trying to keep the trolley free for another year," he said.
"It would be imprudent to take this one year at a time," County Administrator Ed Hunzeker told the council.
"It’s an item we haven’t reduced" in recent budget cuts, he said, but attempts to generate revenue from selling advertising on electronic signs in the trolleys failed, he said.
Each of the three Island cities has contirbuted $8,000 each year for the past two years, but that has not solved the shortfall, he said, adding that as property tax revenue decreased with property values, the situation has worsened.
Charging $1 a day to ride the trolley would generate $100,000 a year, he estimated, reducing the contribution of each city to $6,000 a year, and reducing the amount needed from county tourist tax revenues.
"There’s no reason we can’t charge tourists," said TDC member and Bradenton hotel manager Tom Jung. "It can be free for residents and a charge for tourists."
The Manatee County Commission is scheduled to discuss the trolley in its upcoming budget public hearing on Thursday, June 18, at 6 p.m. in the Manatee County Commission chambers in Bradenton.