shrimpfestSubmitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter -News Analyst
January 7, 2015 4:10 p.m.

Up until two years ago, the City of Fernandina Beach regularly funded trash pick up during and following the annual spring Shrimp Festival as a matter of routine. But recent commissions questioned whether the city should continue to incur such an expense or instead expect the Shrimp Festival Committee (SFC) to become fully self-sufficient.   During the formulation of the city’s FY2014-15 Budget in summer of 2014, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) voted to budget funds to pay half the festival cleanup expenses, but to hold off on the remaining half–$16,403—to see if the SFC could find ways to raise this money without further dipping into city coffers. At the December 16, 2015 FBCC Regular Meeting, Mayor Ed Boner asked that the issue be brought back before the new commission at the January 6, 2015 Regular Meeting for discussion and possible action.

First to speak to the matter was Commissioner Tim Poynter, who said that he believed that the citizens wanted the FBCC to honor its long-term commitment to the Shrimp Fest. He felt that paying for cleanup demonstrated that the city was being business friendly and suggested that the city pay the entire bill.

Commissioner Gass said, “I totally disagree. That’s not the way we left it.”

DSCN3805She reminded commissioners that the SFC had informed the FBCC that they had brought a fundraiser on board and that they would pursue outside options for the half of the cleanup costs not funded by the city. Gass recapped the successful initiative begun in 2012 to transfer responsibility for paying for the July 4th fireworks to the private sector from what had always been a local government expense. She also cited a 2013 cost-saving measure to eliminate public funding for water and city commission refreshments at meetings. Now commissioners take turns to bring these items to meetings and privately underwrite costs. She also touted efforts begun in 2009 to reduce city contributions to not-for-profit social service organizations while starting a discretionary “5 cents a day program” to allow citizens to contribute to funding non-profit grants, if they so desire.

She said, “I would love to know what [the Shrimp Fest Committee] has done since we last talked with them. Meanwhile, I have a list of things they could have considered to raise money.” With that, Gass read a series of possibilities from a paper she had brought to the meeting. Included in that list were seeking contributions from festival food vendors and artists, local merchants from the island to Yulee, soliciting parade participants and seeking volunteers from children as part of Earth Day activities. Gass said, “There are lots of innovative and fun ways to raise this money without using tax dollars. We are all having to think outside the box these days. At this time, I am not ready to give them the money. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, if there is not enough money to pay the bills, that’s a different thing. Certainly I would not see my friends and neighbors go under or the festival stop. Certainly not.” She said the committee could ask the commissioners for personal contributions. “We could each give them a thousand dollars,” she said.

Commissioner Robin Lentz weighed in next. She expressed appreciation for Gass’ creativity but at the end of the day, she said, “I feel sanitation is a public service. When we bring over 100,000 people to the festival, we owe it to our citizens that the city be cleaned up.”

DSCN3818Mayor Boner interjected that Shrimp Fest is the largest annual fundraiser for most of the participating non-profit organizations.

Poynter asked if he could make a motion at this time, and the City Attorney said he could. He moved that the cleanup be fully funded by the city, so that the SFC could move forward with its planning for the 2015 festival.

Gass said that she was not finished discussing the issue. Boner said that discussion could continue following a motion and a second. Miller seconded Poynter’s motion. Gass then asked for an update from the Shrimp Fest Committee.

Dawn Lunt, Shrimp Festival Committee Merchandising Director and Treasurer
Dawn Lunt, Shrimp Festival Committee Merchandising Director and Treasurer

Dawn Lunt, the current merchandise director and festival Treasurer for the past three years came forward to speak on behalf of the Shrimp Fest Committee. “Let’s see, where to start,” she began. She explained that the FFC sponsorship chair had resigned for health reasons. The Festival has retained former sponsors and is attempting to find new ones. “I’m sorry, Commissioner Gass,” she said. “You make it sound so easy, but it really isn’t. You cannot attract large contributions easily. Our annual budget runs from $275-300K. We are invoiced by the city for services provided, and we do pay.” She added that the City is the festival co-host and that the weekend brings in 125,000 visitors and over $7M in economic impact to the island. She said that the committee collects already 15-20 percent commission on non-profit food sales, so the non-profit organizations do contribute.

Gass said, “I realize that by taking a stance, it makes me look like the Wicked Witch of the West, and that is not my intent. I don’t understand why all of us who live in Fernandina Beach get to pay, while non-city residents on the island and in Yulee get to enjoy. Can’t we work out something where the financial burden is more equitably shared?”

Lunt responded, “Well, we could always move the festival outside the city limits.

Are you really up for that?”

Gass shot back, “Are you really up for that?”

Lunt said that there are other events on a smaller scale held in the city that do not get charged like the Shrimp Festival does. They also use city services. She asked if they also get invoiced for services they use.

Gass said, “That’s a very good question that we should look into.”

DSCN3807 - Version 2Lunt said that she felt that for what the SFC does for the city and the community, they pay their fair share.

Vice Mayor Johnny Miller agreed with Lentz about the city’s sanitation responsibility. He went on to clarify placement of non-profit food booths based upon revenue generated.

Boner and commissioners thanked Dawn Lunt for her appearance. When the vote on the motion was taken, it passed on a 4-1 vote with only Commissioner Gass dissenting.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_26301)
7 years ago

Now the City Commissioners are acting like Adults. The monies, the goodwill, not to mention the publicity for our Island Tourism Industry is Huge. Our community is again partnering with the Shrimp Festival. Ms Lunt, thank you so much for all your hard work. The vast majority of our town folks appreciate all your committee does. The results are always awesome. The Shrimp Festival has put this town on the map.

Sheila Cocchi
Sheila Cocchi (@guest_26326)
7 years ago

Most of the commissioners, anyway.

Todd Willis
Todd Willis (@guest_26327)
7 years ago

The city commissioners have done their fair share to cut expenses “we’ve cut out water and refreshments at commission meetings” ha ha that’s GOLD … The fact that this is even up for discussion is sad, of the many years that the shrimp festival has been in operation and the monies that have been fueld into the local economy the City should be more than happy to absorb the TOTAL cost of clean-up.
To ask the local non-profits to fork in more is just a bad idea all around they already put in 20% take out their other expenses some are down to only 30-40 percent return for all that work / hours.
So the city saves 35,000 dollars what will they give back to the local tax payers … It was mentioned in this economy we all have to think outside the box … How about we take a different tact and think inside the box, our local Government is supposed to be our stewards, so think of ways to cut your expenses , save money for your constituents by lowering taxes while offering more services .
BTW I’m not sure what the city has budgeted for fuel this year but I’d bet with the decreasing price per gallon you should be saving thousands funnel some that money into the clean up.
And thank you to the commissioners for the 4-1 vote as a local volunteer of the shrimp festival it’s is much appreciated

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26328)
7 years ago

There are 24 hours a day that can be spent haggling over penny pinching minutiae, posing question after question. That leaves no time for actually deciding – and doing something.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_26330)
7 years ago

The $32K contribution is a fair payment for being named as a co-sponsor of the Shrimp Festival (and given a corner booth on Centre Street), especially considering the Shrimp Festival Committee reimburses the City for the extra expenses for the police, fire and maintenance people that are incurred. The entire community benefits from this event – individuals, businesses and organizations – and all do their fair share already. I understand Comm. Gass’s desire to minimize City expenditures but citing the elimination of bottled water (what’s wrong with the City water anyway?) and crackers is symbolic at best. The businesses and citizens in the community are extremely giving as evidenced by their support of so many organizations and events, but you can only go to the well so often and this is a trip that should be avoided.

mikespino (@guest_26332)
7 years ago

Once again Pat Gass has demonstrated that she “knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”

Peggy Bulger
Peggy Bulger(@peggy-bulger1949gmail-com)
7 years ago

Let me see, the past commission funded $8000 for a still-to-be-seen “dredging miracle” and there has been NO accounting for that money to date. . . the City taxpayers are going to pay enormous legal fees (some say over $1 million) for the illegal “impact fees” that were imposed and defended by City Manager and Attorney. . . now we have a quibble over the city paying $16,000 for sanitation at one of the most important money-generating events on the island? This is the stuff of black comedy for sure. All I can say is that I am so thankful for our election results and thank you Ed, Johnny, Robin and Tim for voting responsibly.

Judith Harris
Judith Harris (@guest_26477)
7 years ago

I am thrilled with the 4 to 1 vote on this. Try as I may; I just can’t understand the way Pat Gass thinks. I would like to thank the other 4 commissioners for their intelligent decision on this issue, and look forward to seeing more of the same. As far as I am concerned, it is a great waste of tax payer’s money for the commissioners to spend time haggling over pennies, or wasting time mentioning that they must buy their own water. Give me a break! I was shocked to read that the subject of taking funding away from the non-profits was mentioned. The public was outraged by that decision. If I remember correctly, the city saved something like the cost of a cup of coffee a day, but the non-profits lost a fortune in matching funds. It was a shameful act that I pray will never be repeated.

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