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Special events sliced from budget

By Staff | Jul 25, 2009

It’s hard to imagine Cape Coral without special events, but that might be a reality if city council decides to no longer sponsor or offer certain services for the many events that take place throughout the year.
Facing cuts to police and fire, public works, and parks and recreation, city council must decide which of these departments will take the brunt of the budgetary shortfall.
City staff presented a number of options for Parks & Recreation, ranging in severity from moderate to catastrophic.
Some options include eliminating certain activities during special events, while other options include eliminating events all together.
The Sons of Italy Charles J. Bonaparte Lodge #2504 hope to throw their Columbus Day parade on Oct. 1, but the pending cuts have put their longstanding event in jeopardy.
Vice President Linda Biondi said the club and the city have operated on a “barter” type basis, where the city donates the stage, bleachers, golf carts, generators and other miscellaneous items in exchange for the club taking on the sole responsibility of throwing the annual Veteran’s Day Parade in November.
Biondi said the club is now facing an additional $5,000 – $7,000 in expenses if the city is unable to hold up its end of the deal.
“What hurts me the most is our city is such a wonderful place to live because of community involvement,” Biondi added. “If they cut all these things then what happens? It’s sad. How do we live without celebrating?”
Biondi said she has not spoken before city council about her concerns. She felt that the council, and much of the city’s population, has been too consumed with the utilities expansion project, but plans on doing so soon.
She suggested a more level approach to cuts, instead of monster reductions in parks, or police and fire.
“When you have a city with all the departments it has, every department needs to be cut, not just police and fire or parks and rec,” Biondi said.
A city without special events would be a difficult landscape for Councimember Dolores Bertolini to comprehend. But the council woman admits that making widespread cuts might not be a real possibility.
“It might be simple to say it needs to be across the board but it’s easier said than done,” Bertolini said.
On a personal level, Bertolini said the thought of losing special events has caused her to be “distressed”, and that losing these events would be akin to “shutting down life in the city.”
“Personally, I go to a lot of events. (Without special events) it would be a sad city with nothing to do,” Bertolini added.
One of the Cape’s, if not all of Southwest Florida’s, biggest celebrations, Red, White & BOOM!, could very well fall victim to the budget cuts.
Organized by the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, the cost of this year’s BOOM! would have put the Chamber “in the hole” to the tune of $47,000 had the city not provided a police and fire presence, according to Chamber President Mike Quaintance.
Quaintance said if the city is unable to help provide these services next year, it’s a strong possibility there will be no Fourth of July fireworks and no celebration of any kind at the foot of the Cape Coral Bridge.
As of now, Quaintance said he would recommend to his Board of Directors that organizing 2010’s BOOM! would not be financially feasible.
“Fortunately, we have a lot of time before BOOM!, but with the information I have BOOM! is unlikely next year,” he said.
At this time, the chamber is still planning on holding its Festival of Lights in December, although Quaintance did not elaborate on whether this event is in danger next year as well.
To help offset some of BOOM!’s cost this year, the Chamber collected a dollar entry fee per person. The gate totaled nearly $12,000, which the chamber gave to the city.
“We’re not complaining, we understand everything,” Quaintance said. “The city has to do what they need to do. But, if things stay the same and there are no special event waivers, BOOM! is probably not going to happen.”
If budget cuts do cause special events to go the way of the dinosaurs, big time financial sponsors may be the only thing to keep these events alive.
Biondi and her Sons of Italy brethren need sponsors, to the tune of somewhere between $5,000 and $7,000.
With vendors and entertainment already booked, deposits paid on sound systems and advertising, Biondi said they are running out of time to ensure the 26th Columbus Day Parade and Food Festival hits the streets of Cape Coral.
“We’re just scrambling to try and keep it together,” Biondi said.