A truce has been declared between the town of Longboat Key and Manatee County officials when it comes to trolley-service payments.
On Aug. 14, Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie informed Town Manager Dave Bullock the Manatee County Commission agreed to stop billing the town for the Manatee County portion of the Longboat Key trolley route. The commission voted 6-1 to stop billing the town.
“They are going to stop sending bills,” Bullock said. “That’s a good thing.”
Manatee County has been trying since January to collect $84,000 from the town to fund the island’s trolley route.
Manatee County officials last sent a bill June 12 in an attempt to collect the money for two separate fiscal years.
Wrote Manatee County Director of Public Works Ron Schulhofer in a June 12 letter to Bullock: “On May 7, you and Mayor Jim Brown made a presentation to the Board of Manatee County Commissioners detailing the desire to not have the town subsidize the Longboat Key trolley service. This is contrary to the town agreeing in two separate work sessions to provide an annual subsidy of $42,000 to help fund operations of the trolley.”
Bullock responded to Schulhofer in a July 8 letter, stating that both he and Brown were surprised that staff was continuing to demand payment from the town after the Manatee County Commission asked for a discussion item on the issue.
“Your claim that somehow Longboat Key made a multi-year funding commitment to Manatee County is not supported by evidence in county records,” Bullock wrote.
Although the town paid the county $42,000 in fiscal year 2010-11, Bullock said he’s looked at all of the minutes between the county and the town and can’t find an agreement that mandates the town continue to pay that amount for future years.
Despite the back-and-forth correspondence, Schulhofer has asked for payments on three separate occasions this year, starting Jan. 11.
Bullock has told county officials that Longboat Key taxpayers have paid more than $6 million in transportation services to the county in the last 10 years. He has also shown county officials PowerPoint slides that reveal the Longboat Key trolley route has anemic ridership numbers, but it’s not the poorest-performing route in Manatee County.
Manatee County ridership statistics reveal that in 2012, a Palmetto route had 34,303 riders, compared to 37,275 riders for the Longboat Key route that same year. Palmetto, though, is not billed individually for its transit service.
Bullock also noted that, unlike other Manatee County municipalities, the town does not utilize many of the county’s services for which taxpayers still pay. Those services include a sheriff road patrol, planning services, code-enforcement services, parks services and beach-project management.
The Manatee County Commission has agreed to hold a future workshop to discuss future funding for the Manatee County portion of the Longboat Key trolley route.