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Fort Myers Beach Council votes in support of July 4 fireworks
May 17, 2017

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In a relatively uncontentious discussion, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council unanimously decided to

approve the Fourth of July events and agreed to pay a portion of the event.

The town put out a request for proposals for the fireworks display. Only one responded, Garden State, which has been managing the show for years.

The estimate for this year's event, including the parade and activities, sits at about $58,000, according to Maureen Rischitelli, director of administrative services for the town. The Fireworks Fundraising Committee, headed by Jacki Liszak, has already committed to paying for the fireworks display and the trolley costs, as it has done in the past. The fireworks are slated to cost $25,000 this year and the trolley is $6,000.

The town has $30,000 left in this year's budget for special events and $12,000 left to cover the cost of the Sheriff's Office and fire department services.

"I think Fourth of July is a huge event for the island. If you're in town you're involved, visitor or resident," said Council Member Joanne Shamp. "The businesses are doing their part to balance their share."

Liszak said the fundraising group has already raised $20,000 so far, from individual donations to two fundraising events so far, held at The Cottage and Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe. The committee also got $600 from donations at Taste of the Beach.

There's still another fundraiser planned: The Lani Kai will host a silent auction and "Fireworks Party" event Saturday, June 10 from 2 to 6 p.m.

Whether or not the town should be funding the fireworks events for Fourth of July and New Years Even has been a repetitive, contentious discussion for several years. The events were once organized by the Semmer family, including Vice Mayor Tracey Gore. When the family stopped facilitating it, the town agreed to take it on for a few years with the understanding that someone else would step up to help. Then in 2016, the town decided to fund half the event and Liszak stepped up to help fundraise the rest. Since then, it's been an ongoing debate if the town should contribute to the two beach holiday events.

"Every time this comes up, we shouldn't have this conversation," Council Member Anita Cereceda said.

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said the town should consider picking a funding plan and keeping it that way, whether that be agreeing to pay half the event or a percentage of the event with the expectation that the fundraisers know how much is expected of them.

"If they don't meet it then we scale back the event to fit," Hernstadt said.

The council agreed, but decided to discuss future funding during the looming budget season.

A bulk of the town's expenses stem from paying the Lee County Sheriff's Office for the extra patrol power, as there is increased risk of incident during a holiday such as the Fourth of July. The town also pays for the parade costs and will host family-friendly activities at Times Square.

Without too much argument, however, the town agreed to help cover the event as long as the fundraising committee held up its end. It also approved the RFP from Garden State.

"Everybody loves the Fourth of July. I'm confident we'll raise the 50 percent as we promised," Liszak said. "Like the town manager said, let's decide what we're doing. Figure out how not to make it a last-minute panic."

A fundraiser at The Yucatn on the Fourth will help Liszak get a step up for the next event, too; the Yucatan will be fundraising that day to get a head-start on getting donations for the New Years Eve fireworks.

"I'll say it again, they're both family days, important to the town, and I'm going to support them personally and from this dais," Cereceda said.

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