MADEIRA BEACH — For the second year in a row, the city's planned Fourth of July Fest celebration disappointed hundreds of people gathered on the beach to watch the fireworks display.
Both times the events were billed to be the "best ever" by city officials. Both times the events were much less than planned.
Now, City Manager Shane Crawford wants the commission to rethink how or even whether the city should spend nearly $30,000 on an event that he described as a "nightmare."
Mayor Travis Palladeno has a more positive view.
"It was a successful failure," he said, stressing that the event drew many people to the city.
"That is what it is all about," Palladeno said Friday. "It's a tourist town, when businesses are doing good, the parking meters getting fed. I don't see any negative side. It was a family-friendly event that brought people to the city."
Nonetheless, the commission will have to decide whether it wants to spend $26,000 next year for Fourth of July fireworks and daylong beachfront activities.
Problems with the event began last year when a computer glitch shut down the planned finale, leaving more than three boxes of fireworks unexploded and many residents disappointed.
This year, a series of problems ranging from persistent rain to damage to a last-minute barge rental forced the fireworks display to be shifted to the Intracoastal Waterway behind City Hall instead of in the Gulf of Mexico where a crowd of people had gathered on the beach to enjoy the event.
The Fourth of July Fest, which began at 11 in the morning, attracted hundreds of residents and their families, as well as outside visitors, to Archibald Beach for music, a tiki bar offering beer buckets and frozen cocktails, food vendors and a kids' area featuring a slide, aqua bubbles, Hula Hoop contests, and a gyrosphere.
"It was packed," Palladeno said. "This was the first time we had the kids area and we had a ton of kids."
The weather, however, did not cooperate.
It rained nine times during the day, according to Crawford.
Each time, people left the beach. After the rain stopped, most but not all came back.
Even with the uncooperative weather, by midday it appeared the city event was bringing in a record amount of money.
But by evening, more problems arose.
The barge carrying the fireworks was a last-minute replacement for the originally chartered barge that was called away on an emergency bridge repair.
Cheers from people on the beach spotting the barge coming through John's Pass dwindled when the barge stopped.
"The tug and barge had experienced damage either getting out of the pass or hitting the rough waters in the gulf. The tug and the barge were going to become unattached," Crawford explained at last week's commission meeting.
With the help of the Coast Guard, the tug and barge returned through the pass and moored in the Intracoastal Waterway just behind City Hall.
"We had a city full of people who wanted to see the fireworks and, by golly, we didn't know where they were going to blow up but we were going to blow them up somewhere," Crawford said.
"It was a miracle that we got them off that night," he added. "It's probably time that we re-evaluate how we want to do that celebration."
The commission will hold a special meeting Tuesday to set its tentative property tax rate at $1.79 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value.
Next month the commission will hold a series of budget workshops to decide how much to spend on a variety of projects, including the 2014 Fourth of July celebration.
Crawford's proposed budget for next year calls for spending $26,000 for Fourth of July fireworks, virtually the same amount spent this year and significantly higher than the $18,000 that was spent in 2012.
Formal budget hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 3 and Sept. 23.