Why should Flagler Beach government provide a $15,000 subsidy to shuttle visitors in and out of the city on July 4? Why should it cost law enforcement, sanitation, public safety and other agencies a combined $60,000, much of it borne by the city, to manage that single day? Why shouldn’t State Road A1A be shut down for a few city blocks around the pier the night of the fireworks, to create a more festival-like atmosphere? Why should the city keep holding an event that primarily benefits restaurants and bars at the expense of the city’s residents’ peace of mind–and pocketbooks? Why shouldn’t the fireworks show be scaled back–cut by half–to make it less of a draw on that particular day and perhaps keeping traffic from overwhelming the small island city beyond its means?
The Flagler Beach committee city government appointed to study the future of July 4 events and fireworks in the city took on those and other questions at its second meeting this morning as the committee makes its way to January recommendations to the Flagler Beach City Commission. The central questions are whether to keep the fireworks tradition going, and if so, how to organize the event in such a way that the city is not overwhelmed by visitors, as it had been in recent years.
“Is the fireworks something we really have to have?” Police Chief Matt Doughney asked before answering pithily: “I mean, there’s a reason the NFL doesn’t hold the Super Bowl in a city of 5,000.” He’s not exaggerating much: July 4 has drawn almost as many people to the island as can fit in the Miami Dolphins’ stadium.
Beside, Amy Lukasik, the director of county government’s tourism bureau, had a surprise for the committee members this morning: the county’s Tourist Development Council may not be underwriting the $25,000 annual cost of the fireworks for Flagler Beach, or the equivalent cost for Palm Coast’s version of the fireworks around the same time. Asked directly by Scott Spradley, the chairman of the committee, whether that subsidy could end, Lukasik replied: “That it could possibly happen, yes, there is no ongoing commitment forever and ever amen that the TCD would commit to both cities.”
That was unexpected. City officials have long assumed that the fireworks are a natural tourist draw, therefore directly in line with the sort of events the TDC would support. The TDC may be seeing it differently. It hasn’t always underwritten the shows. That started less than a decade ago. Previously, Carla Cline–a committee member–recalled, the city raised money to pay for the show (and the chamber of commerce then in existence did its part).
“So that’s another cost the city would have to incur, at the minimum, $25,000,” Suzie Johnston, the mayor and an ex-officio member of the committee, said.
“It is loud and clear” that everyone wants the fireworks, but those that want it most should bear the cost–among them businesses, Lukasik said, enabling the TDC to refocus its subsidies on events that “last more than 20 minutes.”
“There’s a line of sponsors ready to go,” Scott Fox, another member of the committee and the owner of Tortugas, the restaurant and bar, said.
Lukasik raised the obvious question: “Are we having fireworks on the 4th of July?”
“We don’t know,” said Scott Spradley, the Flagler Beach attorney and chairman of the committee. That answer will be part of the committee’s recommendations, to be submitted to the city commission on Jan 22. (Na earlier version of this article incorrectly placed the due date at July 22.) But based on the committee’s discussions in their two meetings so far, and based on what the committee members have gathered through informal surveys over the past two weeks, the issue is a vexing one: the idea of the fireworks is more appealing than its reality, depending on what side of the fence people are.
The committee has a challenge: whose wishes should prevail on July 4–those of existing residents, businesses or visitors?
The answers, the committee members related based on those informal surveys, are that no single group has precedence over the other. Existing residents are somewhere between indifferent and nostalgic about the day, many of them no longer going into town anymore because of the throngs of visitors. Restaurants depend on the day’s events, including the fireworks, to thrive. Visitors are not represented on the committee, but their numbers speak loud enough: they’ll keep coming, maybe to the chagrin of existing residents, making them the least controlled, most fluid variable. There is some agreement, however, that residents would be appalled to find that the city’s tax revenue was underwriting free shuttle buses to bring people in and out, at an annual cost of $15,000 (at least for the three years before covid suspended the fireworks.)
Panel members would much rather see some form of parking charge assessed–not free transportation. But where and how to levy those charges is the question.
Lukasik said Palm Coast is having the same challenges: the city is running out of space in Town Center, where it’s been holding its fireworks show since 2010. Town Center is building up, parking spaces are diminishing.
“Everyone loves fireworks, but there’s another side to the coin, that’s why we’re here, to figure these things out,” Spradley said after going through an outline of the many less visible costs associated with the Independence Day festivities.
“Everybody wants fireworks, they’re great,” Johnston said. “Yeah but they wreck–I mean you can’t burn the city to the ground.” Johnston represents one of the two cardinal points on the committee: she has represented the point of view that fireworks on July 4 could be ended, handed over entirely to Palm Coast, while Flagler Beach could refocus on a new tradition such as New Year’s Eve fireworks. That would give businesses a boost during a usually slow period of the year. The opposite pole is represented by Fox, for whom fireworks have a direct bearing on the bottom line. He doesn’t want to see them scrapped. He wants better traffic management and public safety.
Fox found that the absence of fireworks in Flagler Beach the last two years created a different kind of problem: “I’ve asked all of my neighbors this and you know what the number one thing I hear is the fireworks outside of the [July 4 show], the consumer fireworks the last two years has been unbearable. They say, by taking away the large fireworks, now everybody has gone out and spent $500 on fireworks for the house, and it starts at 5 p.m. and it goes until 5 a.m.” (Fox isn’t big on New Year’s fireworks, seeing that event in a different light.)
The other members of the committee fall between the Johnston and Fox poles. Their surveys reflected the same ambivalence. Carla Cline, for example, found that long-time residents have given up on July 4, preferring to keep to themselves on a day of chaos and overbearing traffic. They were apparently glad not to have the event the last two years.
“The residents that I talked to loved it that way because when I spoke to them, they had their town back,” Police Chief Matt Doughney said, referring to the last July 4, when there were no fireworks, no parade, no organized events.
Butch Naylor, another committee member, conducted a more elaborate survey, speaking with 17 people and summing up his findings in a print-out. But he, too, found opinions breaking down across a spectrum from indifference (or elimination of fireworks) to better organization of transportation options and the like.
The various surveys, Spradley said, reflect the committee’s own varied perspectives, leaving it to the committee to figure things out. “We’re very much on the front end of what we want to drill down on,” he said. “You’ve got the common interest, the fireworks, then you’re back to the safe way to do it. If there isn’t a safe way to do it, then it won’t happen. But we have a dozen meetings to figure it out.”
The committee and city staff will be studying certain options, such as closing A1A for a few hours (which would require the state transportation department’s permission), an option the police chief and City Manager William Whitson say would merely shift chaotic traffic and parking to the interior parts of the city. The committee will also be studying what Whitson called a “multi-modal” way of addressing transportation issues: finding ways to encourage visitors to ride bicycles, Ubers and Lyfts, possibly still some shuttle buses, though the $15,000 cost of underwriting those buses with city funds appears to have little support.
There is more support on the committee for charging visitors for transportation and parking options–an element that would itself have its own dampening effect on excessive crowds.
The central question–whether to have fireworks or not–remains quite far from answered for now, though if there are hints of a consensus emerging so far, it is that more members of the committee–and the city administration–are inclined against continuing the tradition than preserving it, with accumulating data to make their point.
Mike Lalikos says
As a resident property tax payer I’m all for eliminating “Free” parking downtown altogether for out of towners. Residents can get stickers. Doesn’t have to be a lot of money per space and restaurants can issue diners passes etc. To cover charge. I feel the city gets taken advantage by some folks who have lack of respect for our precious beach and when parking is “Free” it’s not “Free” to us local taxpayers who foot the bill for clean up and maintenance. As far as the 4th same applies, I don’t think I’m alone in not wanting to foot the bill to pay for out of town folks being shuttled free to watch fire works.
That’s riiight – the republican mantra = stick it to the man. Meanwhile, tourists AND locals get fee’d to death. That’s the republican way. Just taking more money out of your pockets,
No, Spradley and Johnston are WRONG ,not everyone loves or wants fireworks. Veterans with ptsd do not want fireworks, people who love nature do not love fireworks, wild life and people’s pets do not love fireworks. They are a anarchic and barbaric form of celebration.
Scott W. Spradley says
Mark, at the end of the meeting today, I actually clarified my comment that “all” are in favor to “most” are in favor of fireworks. My scaled back comment related to dog owners. But you make a good point about those with PTSD, and others. We will do our best to ensure that all viewpoints are considered. Thank you for your input. Scott
Faith Grasso says
Kind of agree…for flagler bch area only
Just a few random thoughts from an outsider looking in – – – There look to be several issues going on here:
1. Many of the residents want their town back,
2. Many businesses want fireworks on the fourth,
3. There are crowd control and traffic issues on the fourth,
4. The city may soon have to foot the $25,000 bill for the fireworks, as well as continuing to pay $15,000 for the busing and then there is the $60,000 for other city services – all for one day.
4. Many private citizens are setting off fireworks on their own.
Taking the last first, the town needs to enforce its ordinance [9-17(b)(1)] against private citizens setting off fireworks. Flagler Beach is not that big, a few officers should be able to easily witness the events, zero in on the violator and issue citations accordingly. Perhaps the penalties for violation of this ordinance should be adjusted to the point where it would make someone actually think about taking the chance of getting caught. Maybe alter the ordinance to make the property owner responsible for all actions on their property? Kinda like when my nephew takes my car without my permission – I am still responsible for any damage he may cause.
The cost issue – the city could take the position that if the businesses really want the fireworks so badly, they should pick up the entire cost of the event. Of course, letting private industry take over civil functions is starting a walk on that slippery slope and quite honestly once your virginity is gone, there is no getting it back. And then there is the legal can of worms this may open.
Traffic issues – shut down all traffic from North 1oth to South 7 and several blocks west of A1A to Flagler Ave. Create “resident only” parking on all city streets and write tickets for all violators. The city will need to write an ordinance with substantial fines for violations. The fines alone would underwrite the costs of ‘special officers’ to write the tickets. Bus folks in from Wadsworth Park at $2.00 a head. With 50,000 people crowding into the city that should cover the $15,000 busing estimate.
The next two are really the meat of the matter – should the city continue the fireworks display or not. From what we see in this article, it appears that the majority of residents do not want the fireworks but the businesses do. From the resident side, their lives and community are being disrupted by a bunch of outsiders who create many problems for their city; traffic, huge crowds, trash, illegal parking, costing the city upwards of $100,000 of taxpayer money and generally being a nuisance. From a business prospective, we can see where the additional foot traffic will help some of the gift shops, art dealers and the like. Will it help restaurants? Maybe but only in a minor way, restaurants will fill to capacity without needing the draw of fireworks – perhaps a few places will pocket a few more dollars but I doubt that their business plan was developed with a reliance on one day of the year would make or break their business. No, it is just another way to make a quick buck.
The city council is in a bad spot; if they end the fireworks some businesses, not many, but some, will decry them as being “anti-business” – well BS to that, if their business is based on one day of the year, they had no hope of staying in business. If they allow the fireworks against the will of the majority of the residents, there will probably be a day of reckoning and that would be titled ‘election day’. There are more residents than business owners.
Concerned Citizen says
I remember making comments on the parking issue and being called a carpet bagger by you because I own a home and live in West Flagler.
Even though I have in-laws in Palm Coast proper. And am one of their primary care takers and help with the maintenance of their home.
You expressed a pretty weighty opinion as “an outsider looking in”
Just trying to figure out the difference and who has more of a right to express opinions when not living in the immediate area.
Absolutely Ridiculous says
Has everyone forgotten what is was like to be a child? Did none of you look forward to 4th of July fireworks regardless of where you grew up?? I am so glad that my children grew up enjoying years of the Flagler Beach 4th of July celebration from the parade, arts & crafts, pageants and playing on the beach for 2 hours before the fireworks started. We were never deterred from going regardlss of the traffic or the weather. You planned accordingly. Many happy memories from this event and I find it so sad that the younger generation will not get to experience a sampling of this simplicity of life.
Yes, so many do love July 4th and my kids grew up loving it back in the 80’s but it has gotten so out of control. Have you ever seen the beach the day after? Couches burned, trash galore, broken chairs and umbrellas and whatever else. It’s very sad. Not to mention what the poor trash guys have to deal with up and down the town. It’s an awful sight. Commissioners need to put some serious thought into this.
Then there’s the environmental impact and cost. The debris falls into the ocean. Some of it washes ashore but not all. And this is in the middle of turtle nesting season.
Hold the parade, but skip the fireworks unless the restaurants want to foot the bill for police, fire, etc costs.
Faith Grasso says
The Town of Flagler Beach needs to be ashamed they ever mentioned visitors or business’ pay for fireworks??? I mean what the fk???? I lived there twice and believe me…..If i lived there now your lame asz would be off that voted board!!!!!
I 100% agree Faith!
Faith Grasso says
Kind of agree…for flagler bch area only
Lance Carroll says
I am curious of the amount of sales tax generated from hospitality businesses within Flagler Beach as compared to property taxes generated from residential homesites. Please enlighten the public on the numbers, FlaglerLive.com? Of course most of us know about Flagler Beach being voted one of the “coolest” coastal communities along the eastern seaboard….and to what extent does the Flagler County TDC(not TCD) play a part in reaching out to those that vote on/promote Flagler Beach as one of the “coolest” eastern seaboard cities? Obviously, 4th of July have impeded upon the residents of Flagler Beach for, well, decades…
I suspect that the businesses in Flagler Beach could rehash a “Flagler Beach Business Association” and bring forth an organized body as to bring forth a resolution that benefits business, citizens, and visitors. Lots of new folks moving to Flagler Beach that have never known of the City’s history and festivities…Lots of elected folks that never spent a day of their childhood in Flagler Beach…beyond those(Suzie Johnson) that came to Flagler Beach from westside of Flagler County to revel in the festivities and traditional history of Flagler Beach a few days out of every year.
As a resident of Flagler Beach – wish the same attention was given to cleaning up the City center to encourage visitors to get out of their vehicles and patronize small business owners on a ‘daily basis’. Personally, I’m on the fence with respect to the fire works debate as both sides have valid points. Flagler Beach needs to create an identity, and source of tax revenue, that does not rely so heavily on bar food, excessive drinking and a 7-day a week music venue abutting our 2 nicest hotels, spa and residential homes. Interjecting the ‘family value’ label solely for the 4th of July debate is a wee bit hypocritical – don’t you think? Outside of Wickline Park, what sort of activities exist in Flagler Beach for families with children and those who value their livers?
Knows Jack says
From: Flagler Beach
To: Non Flagler Beach Flagler Residents
Subject: Visiting Flagler Beach
Dear Flagler Beach Neighbors, Welcome to Flagler Beach but just don’t cross the bridge or approach us from the south or north on A1A. The only part of you that is really welcome here are your tax dollars. You know the dollars you pay to keep “our” beaches open just so we can complain about you using them. And if you are expecting us to welcome you on Independence Day, think again. But we would welcome you to support our local businesses but online only not in person. If you want to eat at one of restaurants we will air cannon your food to you across the ICW. And it will include a tee shirt that says…Please Don’t Make Me Welcome You On This Side of the Bridge!
Another suggestion….if our police department can’t handle a one day holiday, let’s consider abolishing the police department and letting the Sheriff’s Office take over policing.
Land of no turn signals says says
The bill from the massive clean up the day after must be huge from those F***ing slobs.A few slobs everyone suffers.
There should be plenty of money to cover the cost of the fireworks in Flagler Beach. Nowhere else is a water/sewer/garbage bill $90 before using any water. Flagler Beach has successfully figured out how to double and triple tax you on the same services. If anything, FB should be ashamed of themselves, yet their behavior demonstrates they don’t give a damn.
NO NO NO, If you want fireworks go to palm coast. I live downtown, its a fricken war zone on the 4th. I have cops chasing people through my yard. Scott got it right these idiots go out an create there own shows, my god I have to have my hoses ready, my cars roofs are covered with firework debris. They are going to burn this town down, time that the law enforcement does there job and start fining these knuckheads for illegal’s fireworks on the island..
Soooo, Flagler Beach demands that the unwashed residents West of the ditch pay millions of dollars for their beach restoration and once they get the money its lower the gates? Whats next? Armed road blocks at the bridge? I hear that the Flagler Beach well sites located in Palm Coast are failing and they may have a water problem.