LARGO — Because of financial constraints, the city trimmed its 2011 special events budget to include only six events this year, down from 31 in 2010. But make no mistake: Saturday's 17th annual Spooktacular, the biggest event sponsored by Largo, will be its usual extravagant spectacle.
The event, with a budget of about $30,000, started at the old City Hall. Back then, a good crowd was a few thousand people. This year, with weather permitting, 30,000 people are expected to attend, said Jessica Newsome, Largo's special events coordinator.
For kids under 14, there will be a haunted candy trail with about 50 trick-or-treat stations, each designed with a Halloween theme.
For youngsters who buy a wristband, there also will be about 30 inflatables, a critter encounter with live animals and a mechanical surfboard.
The Largo Central Park Railroad also will give free minitrain rides until dusk.
The event also includes an ongoing giant dance party held under the city's big-screen TV, where kids of all ages will get a chance to participate in the Nintendo Wii Dance game Michael Jackson: The Experience.
"We used Guitar Hero last year, and it was really popular," Newsome said, "But this game is newer and the kids — actually everybody I've seen play it — really love every minute of it.''
For those who have ventured onto the haunted candy trail in the past, you can expect to see a particular tradition continue: City employees will compete for the "Best City Trick-Or-Treat Stop."
Several departments started working on their decorations a few months ago, Newsome said.
"It's very funny how the different departments get so competitive,'' she said.
In 2010, the finance department with analyst Jared Meyer directing won first prize.
"Last year, we lured people into a witch's lair. We had set up all these concoctions to go with the witches. It was fun,'' said Meyer.
Jonathan Evans, assistant to the city manager, is again part of the administration team. He says Meyer's reign will end Saturday. "It's a no-brainer that the administration team is going to knock them out.''
Evans has been vying for the grand prize for several years. In 2008, he came closest when his team brought out a spectacle of zombies. However, that ended with a tie between Evans' team and the Recreation, Parks and Arts stop. This year, the only hint Evans would give about his team is: "Lions, tigers, bears and a little 'oh my' will be there.''
Dawn Smolowitz, coordinator for the Recreation Parks and Arts trick-or-treat stop, can't help but chuckle when she thinks of going up against Evans. "I don't think anyone really takes it too seriously, and I don't think anyone has ever gotten hurt feelings over this because we know this is for fun,'' she said.
"It is the greatest thing to see smiles on kids' faces," Smolowitz said. "But like I tell Jonathan every year: Bring. It. On.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.