Swamp Buggy Parade’s future in question as Naples leaders look for budget cuts POLL

Should the city of Naples continue to underwrite costs of the Swamp Buggy Parade?

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— They love a parade.

But facing a tight budget, Naples officials next week are expected to discuss whether to continue underwriting costs of the decades-old Swamp Buggy Parade that runs through the heart of Naples the last weekend in October.

Without the city’s financial support, there won’t be a Swamp Buggy Parade down U.S. 41, said Chuck McMahon, vice president of events for the Swamp Buggy race.

“We would not be able to have it down U.S. 41 without the city’s help,” he said. “We would have to move it. It’s the largest, most exciting parade they have. That’s a big loss for the city of Naples … I can’t imagine they want to lose it.”

The city has been underwriting the costs of public safety personnel, including police officers and firefighters, for decades, said David Lykins, community services director for the city of Naples.

Eliminating that underwriting, or sponsorship, would save the city about $9,000 annually in police and fire overtime costs, Lykins said in a Feb. 1 memo to City Council.

The city paid 46 police officers and one beach specialist a combined $8,023 in overtime to work at the 2010 parade. In 2009, that cost was $10,121 for 49 officers, one beach specialist, one sergeant and one lieutenant.

The cost savings may be discussed Monday when the Naples City Council also considers cuts to several city-sponsored recreation programs.

All of the proposed cuts have the potential to save the city up to $209,000 in fiscal 2012, and include eliminating traditional summer camp programs, staff-run events such as Bunnymania at Fleischmann Park and special performances at Cambier Park.

The Swamp Buggy Parade kicks off the fall swamp buggy competition at the Florida Sports Park east of Naples. It historically has made its way down U.S. 41 beginning at Fleischmann Boulevard before ending at Third Avenue South.

Councilman Gary Price said that with the amount of emergency personnel deployed to cover the parade each year, the city needs to look at its options.

“At some point these types of events get to be more than we can do,” Price said. “It’s a huge impact on the community. It’s a huge financial impact.”

Lykins suggested in his Feb. 1 memo that the parade “if deemed a benefit to the Naples community, may be along the same route but sponsored by Collier County and supported by the Sheriff’s Office’’ should those agencies agree.

Lykins said county government hasn’t been contacted about it and a sheriff’s spokeswoman said Thursday no one was immediately available to comment.

“In the past we have talked about whether to continue to pay for the cost of certain events, and the Swamp Buggy Parade was viewed as one we had a long history with,” City Manager Bill Moss said. “It’s the only parade on U.S. 41, and it seemed it was natural for the parade to continue (but to be) supported by Collier County than the city itself.”

Price agreed, and said he didn’t want to see the parade disappear — he just wanted to see other ways it could be supported.

The Swamp Buggy Parade has been a Naples tradition since 1949, according to minutes from an April 2009 City Council meeting.

“It’s part of Naples’ culture,” said Doris Reynolds, a Naples historian and Daily News contributor. “They don’t say anything about St. Patrick’s Day Parade (or other parades). Why are they suddenly picking on the Swamp Buggy Parade?”

Naples City Council meets at 8:30 a.m. Monday at Naples City Hall, Eighth Street South.

Author and columnist Doris Reynolds.

Author and columnist Doris Reynolds.

“They don’t say anything about St. Patrick’s Day Parade (or other parades). Why are they suddenly picking on the Swamp Buggy Parade?” asked Doris Reynolds, a Naples historian.

Lykins said no one is picking on the Swamp Buggy Parade, but that there is a direct effect on Naples businesses during events such as the annual Christmas parade or the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Fifth Avenue South, compared to the Swamp Buggy Parade.

The bulk of the other parades in Naples start on Third Street South and go up Fifth Avenue South before ending in Cambier Park.

While Lykins said this is the first time the city’s involvement with the Swamp Buggy Parade has been on the chopping block, a Daily News records search shows that City Council broached the idea in 2009 when discussing ways to balance the fiscal 2010 budget. Canceling the parade, as well as cutting costs associated with employees working for the Great Dock Canoe Race, were targeted as potential ways to save money, according to minutes from an April 13, 2009 meeting.

Naples Mayor Bill Barnett said Thursday he’s anticipating the discussion, but isn’t willing to say he supports the idea.

“I realize … money is tight and we’re looking under rocks and tree stumps (for it),” he said. “But there are some that are almost a sacred cow, and I would say this one would be one of them.”

Underwriting the parade isn’t the only cut up for consideration Monday. Naples City Council also will be asked to consider eliminating the traditional summer camp at Lake Park Elementary School, an after-school program at Fleischmann Park and several city-run events.

Lykins said city staff “just needs to get some type of directive for support or non-support” as soon as possible.

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