LUTZ — After Christmas in the Park was canceled last month, the talk around Lutz was, will the Fourth of July parade be next?
Civic leaders worried that they might have to pay Hillsborough County's new park usage fees to hold the parade, the defining event of the year in Lutz.
They fretted that the county would no longer supply bleachers, tables and chairs. And there was the question of whether Lutz still has the core of volunteers to pull such events together.
This week, Hillsborough Commission Chairman Ken Hagan said he will work to take two of those issues off the table.
In response to concerns raised by Lutz residents, Hagan said he had his staff talk to parks officials. Based on that initial contact, it was his understanding that fees and the question of continued county support would not stand in the way of the celebration.
"The Lutz Fourth of July parade is one of the great traditions in our community, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to do everything in my ability to ensure that the parade continues without any disruptions or issues from the county," Hagan said.
That not only goes for the parade but for the 5K road race and use of the Lutz Community Center for the celebration, he said. If necessary, he'll take that to the rest of the commission for approval. The same holds true for logistical support.
"Those are going to continue," Hagan said, "and we're not going to do anything that's going to impact the parade in any way. It's too important not to go on."
Parks department spokesman John Brill said the Fourth of July celebration would not have been subject to the fees anyway. That's because officials consider it, like similar events around the county, to be a community event co-sponsored by the county.
As a co-sponsor, the county would expect its logo to be included on event materials. But nonprofit groups that raise money at the event would not have to split their event revenues with the county.
"That is theirs to keep, and we hope they sell as many cakes as they can to help their organization," Brill said.
The parks department would provide, as it has done in the past, bleachers, tables, chairs and trash barrels for the parade, Brill said. Volunteers might have to help set them up because the department's special events crew has been cut from the county budget, he said.
Lutz Civic Association president Steve Polzin welcomed the county's commitment, saying it removed a lot of uncertainty about the parade's future. He said he was not surprised, "but it's nice to have it said in so many words."
About those fees
The park fees have generated controversy and speculation around the county since they were announced in November. Under a new ordinance, groups that once met for free at county rec centers had to begin paying by the hour — $20 an hour for nonprofit groups, $40 an hour for those that lack official nonprofit status, such as informal bridge clubs.
Civic leaders have said concern about the fees played a role in the cancellation of Christmas in the Park, though Brill said county officials would have considered it a co-sponsored event that wouldn't have been subject to the fees.
Before Hagan's announcement this week, Fourth of July organizers in Lutz weren't sure whether they would have to pay the fees. But they feared that either the fees or not having the logistical support from the county could jeopardize the parade.
With those issues put to rest, one critical question remains: Does Lutz have enough volunteers to organize the parade and other traditional events?
A generation of key volunteers, some in their 70s and 80s, are no longer able to organize, set up and clean up after the events. Some have health problems or ailing spouses. New leaders have yet to emerge.
That must change, says Lutz Guv'na Suzin Carr. The naming of the guv'na is a highlight of the Fourth of July celebration, with the honor going to whoever raises the most money for Scout troops, the Old Lutz School and other community causes.
While the office is ceremonial, Carr sent out an e-mail this month calling on Lutz residents to step up and take on the responsibility for preserving endangered community traditions.
"Folks, do you get this?" she wrote. "Will you stand for this? Lutz is a small town with a rich history that counts on, and highlights, community spirit like few other towns still choose to do."
"We need to have it," she said. "You can't continue with the same folks year after year."
Richard Danielson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403.