The Longboat Key Town Commission doesn’t believe it should have to pay one penny toward a trolley route that has anemic ridership and loses money.
But because the town of Longboat Key contributes approximately $347,000 annually to Manatee County’s roads and transportation fund, the Town Commission believes the county is obligated to keep the route running.
Manatee County officials have only agreed to fund $200,000 of the $300,000 needed for the Manatee County portion of the Longboat Key trolley route, set to expire Dec. 31. They expect the town to fund the $100,000 shortfall.
But at a Manatee County Commission work session Tuesday, Nov. 30, in Bradenton, Mayor George Spoll questioned a variety of funding options the county proposed for the route.
Manatee County Area Transit Manager Ralph Hessler told those in attendance that he now believes it would cost approximately $241,000 or less to operate the route, now with one-hour wait times.
But because the county paid $285,000 (along with a matching grant that has now expired) for a full year of service, with half-hour wait times, Spoll questioned the county’s budgeting numbers.
“There is an inconsistency here with these numbers,” said Spoll. “Now you are only offering to spend $200,000 — that’s a cutback.”
Commissioner Phillip Younger agreed, explaining that the $347,000 the town gives to the county annually is more than enough to cover the cost of the route.
But County Administrator Ed Hunzeker told Younger that that money goes to the county’s road fund and only a portion of it goes to the county’s transit system.
After the meeting, Younger said the county is “trying to take our money and give us nothing in return.”
“We maintain our own roads on Longboat Key,” Younger said. “As far as I’m concerned, they should be running that bus every day for us, even if it’s running empty.”
During the meeting, Hessler tried to prove that the bus route almost does, in fact, run empty.
“We have four riders per revenue hour for this route,” Hessler said. “This doesn’t represent a good performing route.”
The Manatee County Commission chose not to fund more of the trolley route than the proposed $200,000.
The Town Commission must decide at its 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 6 regular meeting whether to fund the shortfall.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].