In the end, it was a dud of an idea that Palm Coast City Council members hadn’t thought through before proposing it–having simultaneous July 4 fireworks with Flagler Beach, or claiming the July 4 date as Palm Coats’s and relegating Flagler Beach to shoot off its fireworks on July 3, at least every other year.
The only change will be in Palm Coast’s venue. The city’s fireworks show, until now fused from the north end of Central Park in Town Center, will move to the Flagler County airport a short distance away, to allow for bigger fireworks, bigger crowds, and fewer gridlocks.
Tuesday evening, the messy proposal, put forth in various guises by Council members Victor Barbosa, Ed Danko and Eddie Branquinho, was put to rest, at least for this year: Flagler Beach will have its fireworks on July 4, and Palm Coast will have its own on July 3, as has been the case every year for a decade. The story may change in 2023 and 2024, because by then Flagler Beach may not have a pier from where to fire off its fireworks, giving Palm Coast a chance to have its July 4 fireworks after all, at least for those years. But don’t expect Flagler Beach to concede the date for the rest of the century.
And the council members weren’t entirely to blame for the mess. The seed of fireworks in Palm Coast on July 4 may well have been planted by Flagler Beach commissioners first, when they were the ones who suggested last summer that maybe it was time for little overwhelmed Flagler Beach to let Palm Coast take over, so the island wouldn’t be run over by revelers. (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.”) That, after all, is why the Flagler Beach commission set up a committee shortly after: to study that very idea. Never mind that the committee quickly realized the idea wouldn’t light up hearts, or at least tills, in the city. It set it aside.
Branquinho brought up the matter at the end of Tuesday’s council meeting, asking Mayor David Alfin for a status. Alfin spoke of his meetings with Scott Spradley, the Flagler Beach attorney whom Alfin described somewhat imprecisely as being “the chair of the Flagler Beach committee that is assigned to–that’s in charge of their their their celebration.”
Spradley was the chairman of the city commission-appointed committee. He’d conceived the idea of a committee to relieve the commission of what would have been a dicey issue. The commission endorsed it. The committee completed its work in early January and disbanded after Spradley submitted the committee’s final report. The committee wasn’t in charge of celebrations, only of determining how those celebrations might continue safely and without breaking the city’s bank or its ability to manage them.
The committee never discussed the Palm Coast councilmen’s proposals, which were voiced after the committee disbanded. But Spradley, as an unofficial envoy, took the lead in conveying to the Flagler Beach commission and, later, to Alfin, what he thought the committee–and what he knew the commission–thought about Palm Coast’s proposals, which was: not much. Four of the five commissioners and the mayor all confirmed it in interviews last week.
But as Alfin said Tuesday, the matter would be left to the city managers to work out. So he turned to Interim Manager Denise Bevan about her meetings with her colleague in Flagler Beach, William Whitson (who’s apparently known as “Will” at Palm Coast City Hall). The two have developed a smooth working relationship.
“There has been ongoing collaboration, very healthy, exciting collaboration to make sure we bring the most benefits to our community,” Bevan said. She filled in the details of the budgeted plans for July 3 celebrations in Palm Coast. As for following years, she did not say. “I just want to bridge forward a discussion point that we continually have collaborations, we’re talking about the future, any kind of challenges, any opportunities.”
Council member Nick Klufas brought up the possible disappearance of the pier beyond that. “I know that we’re kind of talking where we’ll allow them to continue on July 4 this year, and then we’ll swipswap in the future. But in the future, this upcoming couple of years, they may not even have a pier.” (Just don’t let Flagler Beach Commissioner hear you say that Palm Coast is “allowing” Flagler Beach to have the fireworks: she may never let you rue the day, or ever have the fireworks.)
“The discussions had referred to the upcoming celebrations in 2022. There was no discussion beyond that at this time,” Alfin specified. “I don’t want the media to misunderstand that. What we’ve discussed is the upcoming, and that’s it. We’ll have a future discussion for what we decide as a city that we would like to do going forward.” But Branquinho repeated the proposal he and eventually Danko put forth (Branquinho had done so in an interview ahead of Danko, who beat Branquinho to it in a council meeting)–to alternate years. So that idea is still very much alive. “I think we need to have that discussion,” Danko said.
Danko said Flagler Beach even without a pier could hold its fireworks on a barge. That’s theoretically possible, but not off the coast: the ocean would be too uncertain and potentially unsettled, making the set-up dangerous. It’s a different story in the calmer Intracoastal. But at that point the question of visibility for visitors becomes an issue.
Asked about his meeting with Alfin, Spradley said he and the mayor felt the two cities’ objectives could both be met without compromising safety while letting the two city managers continue discussions mutually beneficial goals.
Spradley cited three objectives in his meeting with Alfin. “First, to keep July 4th fireworks on July 4th this year in Flagler Beach. Second, to put off planning after this year, especially the alternating celebration idea, since it is truly premature with the rebuild of the Flagler Beach Pier ahead. And third, to steer the conversation to our two city managers to formalize a solution, since by all accounts, they have a good working relationship.”
Following Tuesday’s meeting, which the city administration capped with a release about the fireworks issue, Spradley said it was “gratifying to see this is exactly what happened. The two city managers should be commended for working together and reaching a collaborative result beneficial to both cities, and keeping safety a priority.”
Branquinho wasn’t done. Something County Commissioner Dave Sullivan had said during a county meeting, referring to the fireworks, hadn’t sat well with Branquinho. With just a hint of snark, Sullivan wondered loud whether Palm Coast moving its fireworks to the county airport would still leave any room for the city to call the celebration a city event, since the county’s Tourist Development Council pays for the fireworks and the airport is a county venue. “It’s really the county’s fireworks at that point,” he said. (True, the TDC pays for the show, but TDC revenue is drawn from the countywide surtax on short-term rentals, and is generated, like all tax revenue in Flagler, in good part from Palm Coast.)
Branquinho couldn’t let that pass. Referring to Sullivan as “someone from the county” and quoting his words, Branquinho said: “What will be the contribution of Palm Coast? How about 41 percent of the taxes paid by the Palm Coast residents and business that goes to the county. We pay, we county residents, pay 41 percent of our taxes to the county, and then somebody which I happen to like, has–excuse the word, audacity–to say what will be Palm Coast contribution, after 41 percent that we already are all paying for that?”
He referred to other figures and again returned to Sullivan’s “audacity” before ending with: “Give me a break, brother.”
The county, Bevan said, was not aware of costs the county brought to the city for fireworks at the airport. Lauren Johnston, the chief of staff who’s also in charge of the parks department, said there are some operational expenses, but that she’s working with the airport to devise expenses.