Florida Keys News
Friday, July 4, 2014
An explosive, expensive payoff for all
Local Rotary Club foots the big bill for annual fireworks display

When the final explosive lights up the sky over the White Street Pier tonight, all in the name of the Fourth of July holiday, Elizabeth MacLauglin will know her club's volunteer effort paid off.

"I'm definitely going to enjoy them," said MacLaughlin, the new president of the Key West Rotary Club. "The Rotary Club has been doing this since 1976."

An island tradition expected to draw 5,000 people, the annual fireworks start sometime after 9 p.m. over the White Street Pier near Higgs Beach.

During the daytime, the club will host a celebration at Indigenous Park that includes a bounce house and a Cuban-style pig roast with the pork-serving expected to begin at 2 p.m.

But the Key West Rotary Club, which meets at noon every Thursday, works on the fireworks display far longer than just the first week of every July.

"We have to start working on it a year in advance," MacLaughlin said.

Fundraising has become an all-hands-on-deck, year-round effort for the 240 club members.

This year, the fireworks alone cost between $37,000 to $40,000, she said.

Then the service club has to hire security to guard the setup at the edge of the pier, pay the professional company from the mainland, and put the workers up in a hotel and feed them.

Pyrotecnico, a nationwide company that does 2,000 shows each year, required a $13,500 deposit in 2013, according to records filed with the club's 31-page application for a noise permit.

The budget sheet from Jan. 1 to Sept. 12, 2013, says the club raised more than $52,000 and spent $38,751, leaving a $13,672 surplus. But club members say that isn't a profit, rather seed money for the next season's fireworks.

"Right now, we're still short but I'm hoping we can come through," MacLaughlin said Wednesday as she helped set up for today's event. "We're about $10,000 short right now. I wish we could get more help from the whole town."

For the first time in Key West history, the city has promised a $5,000 check out of the city manager's fund. But it hasn't arrived yet, MacLaughlin said.

The city has never shelled out money to put on the fireworks as far back as MacLaughlin, a Conch and a 10-year Rotary member, can recall.

"They never have," said Mayor Craig Cates. "The private sector always just raised the money."

Asked if the city should, or could, pay some of the fireworks tab, Cates said, "It's up to the commissioners."

Former City Manager Bob Vitas, however, agreed to pitch in $5,000 from his discretionary fund after Commissioner Tony Yaniz asked him in person during a meeting at Old City Hall.

"I already reminded them today," MacLaughlin said.

Key West Rotary accepts donations year-round for the fireworks show. Sponsor forms are available at www.keywestrotary.com.

The club decided this year to pay slightly more for the pyrotechnics handled tonight by a professional company rather than any of the Rotary members "certified" to set off fireworks.

"This year they're [fireworks] supposed to be longer than before. That's why we went with this contract," MacLaughlin said. "It's a little bit more but it's a longer time and better fireworks."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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