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Fort Myers Beach could be dark on New Year’s Eve

December 6, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The sky is on fire every year at the stroke of midnight, Jan. 1, but this year Fort Myers Beach may be left in the dark.

The Fireworks Fundraising Committee is about halfway to its $20,000 goal to pay for a fireworks show, but it may not be able to get all the permits it needs in time to hold the event.

It's been an ongoing battle between town and business community for the last two years: paying for the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve fireworks events. During this summer's budget season, the town council voted to pay for the entirety of the Fourth of July day event, including the fireworks, and leave the New Years Eve show up to someone else. During previous discussions, some council members said they thought the town should back the Fourth of July event because it was more family-focused.

Jacki Liszak, who has run the fireworks fundraising effort for the past three events, said the town should be getting the permits because the fundraising effort isn't backed by a specific organization.

"The permit is up to the town. There's no organization to do it," Liszak said. "It's one thing to pay for the fireworks, but the town has to permit because of the insurance."

From her experience as the Chamber of Commerce president, Liszak said it would cost thousands to have an individual organization cover the needed liability to blow up fireworks - insurance the town already has.

Fact Box

12.04 Meeting Minutes

Brief highlights from Monday's Town Council meeting

Information only: Council approved the Times Square Informational Booth licensing agreement, which will allow Moss Marine owner George Freeland to construct a non-permanent visitors information center for Times Square to serve as a hub of knowledge about the town, its attractions and address visitor needs.

Pot pusher: the council voted to move its second and final public hearing of its medical marijuana dispensary ban to the Dec. 18 meeting.

It floats: the family of a deceased owner of an abandoned vessel asked to transfer ownership to the town to expedite its removal from the Back Bay - and lift the responsibility to remove the boat from the original owner. Council debated about the precedent that could be set by accepting the boat. However they ultimately voted to accept the "donation" so as to not risk damage to other boats or take up a mooring ball, and it could cost more via litigation to force the original owner to take the boat out. It can be auctioned off as-is, or the town could get a grant from a state agency to remove it.

But, several members of town council were staunchly against backtracking from their budget decisions.

"It's their special event, the permitting is incumbent on them," said Council Member Joanne Shamp.

Town Manager Hernstadt said he brought up the fireworks event because he wanted the town to be ready to have the permits on hand should the council members want to cooperate with the business community and help out with the permits, or facilitate the purchase of the actual fireworks with the raised funds.

"The issue is we were trying to get away with the symbiotic relationship that didn't work out so well in the past," Shamp said.

During the Fourth of July event, the community raised $25,000, but the town didn't receive the check for months.

But, the town still plans to have its birthday celebration with cupcakes at Times Square - and it will still be doing a ball drop at midnight.

With these two parts of the day, the town is still required to pay the Lee County Sheriff's Office for the extra detail needed to patrol the island on a busy holiday.

"We're working to put everything in place except the fireworks show, unless you tell us otherwise," Hernstadt said.

There is $52,000 in the budget which was dedicated to the Fourth of July fireworks show; however that number does not include the cost of Sheriff's Office special detail. Another line item in the town's 2017-2018 budget is $50,000 to cover special detail for any large holiday or high-traffic time of the year, such as Memorial Day or spring break.

In an interview before the Monday meeting, Hernstadt said the cost of the permit needed for fireworks was on the lower end of event expenses.

"The council is not paying for fireworksIf everything's ready to go and (permits are) the only hold-up, that's a pretty minor cost," he said.

But council's not paying for fireworks or the permit; only for the town-managed cupcake celebration and ball drop at midnight.

Technically, the town is supposed to receive a special event permit 45 days in advance of the event. The application fee is $50 with an additional $100 fee for a event requiring town approval. But, there's an increased fee, assessed at $5 per day, for turning in an application prior to the 45-day requirement. If someone were to apply for a New Years Eve event on Dec. 6, that would tack on approximately $120. There are also fees tacked on for the number of anticipated attendees, use of town staff and electricity hook-ups. The permits do not include insurance; any entity wishing to host the fireworks show would have to pay for their own insurance, Hernstadt said. But if the committee raising the funds wanted help finding an insurance provider, Hernstadt said the town would provide a list of previously used resources to simplify the process.

"If they're doing the ball drop, that's an event. They have to have insurance there," Liszak said. "If we don't have fireworks, then so be it. I know where to point my finger."



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