Lack of foresight

It’s no secret that the BP grant money that funds the annual Navarre Beach Sand-Sculpting Festival wouldn’t be available this year. Before last year’s event even took place, members of the county’s Tourist Development Council’s South End Committee were already brainstorming ways to fund the 2015 festival.

At a July 2014 meeting, members discussed charging an admission fee, which would help bring in revenue while allowing organizers to better track attendance.

But before you know it, it’s 2015 and the festival, which takes place in the fall, is just months away.

Tourism Director Julie Morgan went before the Board of County Commissioners last week with a request for $80,000 to fund the festival – $43,000 for the festival’s budget and $35,000 to hire a new full-time employee who would serve as a community event coordinator.

County commissioners tabled the request, and District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson said he plans to work with Morgan so he can learn more about the event before it goes back to a vote.

But why are we having this conversation now – so late in the game?

When the festival first received the grant in 2010, organizers knew the grants would only last five years.

Morgan said the event has grown since its inception and has become a “staple event” for the county. So why haven’t we been marketing this all along and asking for sponsorships?

In that July meeting, TDC members discussed the possibility of adding a children’s area, or maybe live music and fireworks to make it more like a festival. The wheels were turning, and members knew they had a possible money-maker on their hands, especially if they charged an admission fee.

Yet, here we are, with months to go and no money. If the festival has become such a big draw over the last five years, why are we requesting tax-payer money rather than sponsorships? Wouldn’t local businesses want to get in on the event since it’s going to bring more traffic to Navarre?

If we found out a week ago that the grant was dropped and we needed $80,000 to host the event, then maybe we’d agree to using taxpayer dollars to fund it.

But that’s not the case.

We knew five years ago that this day would come. Five years. Even if the festival charged $1 per person for admission during that time, we wouldn’t be requesting such a big chunk of change.

Somebody dropped the ball.

And they’re expecting taxpayers to pick it up.

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