Commission cancels Fourth of July celebrations

Safety Harbor will have no fireworks or Waterfront Park celebration this Fourth of July, and the American Legion’s annual parade will look different, after the Safety Harbor City Commission was unanimous at its June 1 meeting to cancel the festivities.

COVID-19 concerns were central to the decision, as even in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Phase 2 reopening plan, residents are asked to not congregate in crowds of more than 50. But contributing to the decision was the fact that nearly every Tampa Bay area community had already canceled or modified their celebrations, with the remaining cities expected to follow suit at the request of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. The Fourth of July is one of the most crowded days of the year in Safety Harbor, and Commissioners expressed concerns that being the only show in town would create a public safety hazard with the expected crush of people who live elsewhere attracted to the city.

Commissioners briefly discussed rescheduling the fireworks show, with Commissioner Carlos Diaz suggesting Veterans Day, but City Manager Matthew Spoor cautioned Commission about what is expected to be a difficult annual budgeting process and to hold off on rescheduling until it can be determined whether the city can afford such a celebration. 

The annual parade down Main Street is not a city event but rather a special event approved by Commission and run by American Legion Post #238. Spoor said he had been in discussions with the Legion about their plans, and Commission decided also to revoke the Legion’s event permit but empowered Spoor to discuss alternate plans for the parade with the Legion that would not involve Main Street. 

In social media posts after the meeting, Legion representatives indicated they were working on plans for a car parade through some neighborhoods.

RESIDENT AND SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE

Commission devoted most of the meeting, as it has to previous meetings during the COVID crisis, to a discussion of how best to financially assist residents and businesses. Commission will continue discussing options at its June 15 meeting.

At the June 1 meeting, Spoor updated Commission on numbers from Pinellas County’s distribution of federal CARES Act money, saying $100 million of the $176 million the county received from the federal government still hasn’t been given out. The number of businesses who applied for $5,000 grants was lower than expected, and the county has extended the deadline to apply through June 30. Spoor also told Commission that early projections show a city revenue shortfall from state funds of between $300,000-$500,000 because of the COVID crisis. 

Vice Mayor Cliff Merz and Commissioner Andy Zodrow said they believed a utility bill credit to be the fairest way of distributing any city funds, while Diaz said the city is not equipped to determine who is in the most need and suggested it might be better to give grants to local non-profit organizations or churches, who he believes are in a better position to know which residents are in most need. Commissioner Nancy Besore said she was nervous about the city’s financial state, while Mayor Joe Ayoub said his philosophy was any help should be directed to those residents and businesses who were most affected by the crisis. 

Among the ideas Commission will continue discussing on June 15 will be a request from the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce for a $15,000 grant for a marketing campaign to encourage people to visit Safety Harbor. Commission was united in being in favor of the idea, and is expected to make an official decision on it on June 15.

OTHER ACTION TAKEN

Extension of state of emergency: Commission voted 5-0 to continue the city’s state of emergency.

Annual update to the city’s Capital Improvements Element: Commission voted 5-0 on second and final reading to approve the annual update to the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Schedule to reflect the city’s schedule of capital improvement projects and its Level of Service report.

Hurricane preparation presentation: Fire Chief Josh Stefancic made a PowerPoint presentation to help residents prepare for hurricane season.

MISSED THE MEETING?

Watch a video of it on the city’s website here: https://safetyharbor.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=6&clip_id=2236.

NEXT MEETING

7 p.m., Monday, June 15. The meeting will be conducted at City Hall for the first time during the COVID crisis.

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