The Flagler Beach City Commission has appointed a committee to study the logistics of either continuing July 4 fireworks or potentially scrapping them in favor of shifting the show to New Year’s Eve–or embracing both events.
The committee has until Jan. 22 to issue its findings, so it can incorporate data and observations from what may be the city’s first New Year’s Eve fireworks show in the first minutes of 2022.
The city is rethinking July 4 fireworks at the instigation of Commission Chairman Eric Cooley, who says Independence Day events have become too big and burdensome for Flagler Beach, while the troth in activity at year’s end leave businesses gasping for revenue. In the conceptual plan Cooley suggested, Independence Day would still have all its traditional activities, such as the parade and Veterans Park games, but would forgo the fireworks, shifting them to New Year’s to create a crowd magnet at a usually deader time of year. (See: “End of an Era: Flagler Beach Might Let Palm Coast Take Over July 4 Fireworks and Shift Its Own to New Year’s Eve.”
But ending the July 4 fireworks is by no means decided: the committee, made up of five local residents and several government officials, will carry a lot of weight when it issues its recommendations.
The committee is made up of Mayor Suzie Johnston, residents Rick Bowen, Carla Cline, Scott Fox, Butch Naylor, and Scott Spradley. The county’s tourism director, Amy Lukasik, will be an ex-officio member of the committee, as will be City Manager William Whitson and City Police Chief Matt Doughney. (Whitson’s role was later amended to staff liaison, thus enabling him to speak with other members of the committee without violating sunshine, as would have been the case had he remained an ex-officio member.)
“They have a sole priority goal,” City Clerk Penny Overstreet said. “They’re not going to break off into other items. This is just about Fourth of July, all aspects of it, whether it be cost, safety, fireworks,” and whatever direction the city commission was to give. The commission did not add any other directives on the committee’s study plan. But the committee’s meetings are expected to draw public interest and input.
“Since there is so much interest in this topic, not just July 4 but the fireworks, you don’t have to be on the committee to have input in this. These meetings are open,” Spradley said. He had been on the two-year parking committee and witnessed plenty of public input there. “So you can be involved without being on the committee, and I urge anyone who has an interest in how July 4 is handled to show up at these meetings.” He suggested that the committee meet every other week. “We’re on a short fuse,” he said.
In a related decision, the city commission will also send a third solicitation to the Tourist Development Council–county government’s tourism arm–asking for two pots of fireworks funding for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1: $25,000 for New Year’s Eve fireworks, and $25,000 for July 4 fireworks.
The TDC has already turned down two requests. In one, Flagler Beach had requested to use the money that had been earmarked for July 4, 2021, but not spent (fireworks were cancelled because of covid), on New Year’s eve fireworks instead. Lukasik wrote the city that that couldn’t be done because New Year’s falls three months into the next fiscal year. The money had to either be spent or kept by TDC. It was kept.
The Flagler Beach mayor then attempted a different route. The city would buy the New Year’s fireworks before the end of September from Santore and Sons, the Flagler County fireworks manufacturer that’s been supplying and running fireworks shows around the county for years. Santore was all for it. It would take the money now and prepare for the fireworks come Dec. 31. Lukasik, Johnston reported to the commission, said that couldn’t be done either.
Now the city will ask the TDC for two allocations for the year.
“I reached out and I spoke with some county commissioners,” Johnston said, referring to Commissioners Greg Hansen and Dave Sullivan. Sullivan chairs the TDC. “I would like it in writing with the request that if the pilot program was to flop or not be a success, that we go back and we request the $25,000 again. They felt like this event for New Year’s Eve was a perfect TDC style event, a perfect event to draw people into the community, and essentially just be a great success. I found no reason not to have TDC not give us the funds if it was not to be successful or if we had to continue and do the Fourth of July fireworks, if we just took that decision with the ad hoc committee.”
What Johnston–and the city–doesn’t want is to be left without the possibility of having July 4 fireworks if New Year’s was a complete flop, though typically the first couple of years of a new tradition can be difficult. “I do not feel comfortable spending the money on something that’s not guaranteed,” Johnston said.
Ultimately, it’s the County Commission that decides what tourism money gets spent. TDC is an advisory council, though the commission rarely overrules the TDC’s recommendations, or supplants them with recommendations of its own–at least not since Cracig Coffey, the former county administrator, left the county.