Government spending on holiday decorations? No 'humbug' here. I say bring it on! | Opinion

·5 min read

Like most people, I'm not a huge fan of wasteful government spending.

During my younger days as a reporter, I once spent weeks feuding with the Memphis (Tennessee) City Council and its staff over a story I wrote after the council chair had a telephone installed in the bathroom of the council's offices.

I won't bore you with all the details, but the feud got ugly, then it got weird, then it got ugly again. Knowing now how it all was going to play out, I still don't regret my decision to write that story.

No, the phone didn't cost a lot of money. But it was taxpayer money. And in my mind and in the minds of just about everybody (including some of the other council members), it was a completely unnecessary expense.

So you might imagine my reaction as I read Colleen Wixon's recent story about the money local governments along the Treasure Coast are spending on holiday lighting and decorations.

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Lights at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens
Lights at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens

While some of them spend little to nothing, Port St. Lucie is forking over a comparatively large amount.

What's more, Port St. Lucie actually increased its spending — to $339,038 this year from $224,636 last year.

My feeble math skills indicate that's a few bulbs more than a 50% increase!

Fort Pierce is spending a relatively paltry $70,000. Vero Beach and Sebastian, $25,000 and $21,610, respectively. Stuart — a town some might imagine is rich enough to pave its streets in gold — is shelling out only $8,000.

In the Treasure Coast neighborhood, Port St. Lucie is that family with a full nativity scene and Santa's workshop set up in the yard while everyone else on the block is rummaging through the attic in search of a wreath that bears some of its original shape.

Still, if you're expecting me to light into Port St. Lucie officials (pun intended) for their extravagant ways, you're going to be disappointed.

Readers can and will criticize me for many things. Some of you on both ends of the political spectrum did for having the audacity to write about Nancy Pelosi recently. However, I'm not going to give anyone reason to compare me to Ebenezer Scrooge.

I wasn't visited by any Christmas ghosts before I wrote this, at least as best I can remember.

Port St. Lucie spends money on holiday decorations because residents really enjoy them, Mayor Shannon Martin says.
Port St. Lucie spends money on holiday decorations because residents really enjoy them, Mayor Shannon Martin says.

I just view this in a different light (sorry, I did it again) than I do expenses intended to make elected officials feel rich and privileged.

By the way, this isn't a knock against cities and counties that spend less than Port St. Lucie. None of them have unlimited resources, so they have to decide how much holiday festiveness they can afford to bankroll.

It's also worth noting civic groups, homeowners associations, businesses and homeowners often do as much or more than governments in this regard.

In Port St. Lucie's case, its line item for decorations is a small fraction of the city's overall budget of almost $534 million.

Most of the city's budget goes toward the costs of paving roads; providing water and sewer services; paying, training and equipping police officers; and all the other services you would expect a city government to provide.

Cities — the ones worth living in, anyway — offer more than the basics needed to exist safely and comfortably. The good ones also provide a shared sense of community.

Holiday lights and decorations can't provide that on their own, but they are certainly one of the ingredients in the recipe.

Port St. Lucie increased its budget for holiday decorations by more than 50% in 2021.
Port St. Lucie increased its budget for holiday decorations by more than 50% in 2021.

During the Great Recession more than a decade ago, Port St. Lucie Mayor Shannon Martin said the city did away with holiday decorations as part of its budget-cutting efforts.

People noticed.

Martin said the city brought back the decorations for St. Lucie West as a sort of pilot project when the economy started to improve.

Then residents living in other parts of town complained they weren't getting their fair share of holiday cheer, so the decorating program was gradually expanded.

The program includes lighting and decorations at City Hall, Port St. Lucie Community Center, Village Green and various city roads.

The budget went up this year with the addition of lighting at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens and several "photo op" displays where people can snap selfies with a decorative Star of David, a sea turtle, a sea horse or an oversized Christmas tree ornament.

Martin said the city's contract for decorations will be re-bid next year, so there might be an opportunity to save some money in the future. The decorations are here to stay, though.

"People really love the holiday lights here," she said. "It's just something that makes our residents really happy."

TCPalm columnist Blake Fontenay
TCPalm columnist Blake Fontenay

I can attest to this. The night before I wrote this column, I drove to the botanical gardens to check out the decorations.

There was no special event happening; it was just after sunset on an ordinary weekday.

In just a few minutes, I watched several families traveling along the garden walkways. I could hear squeals of delight in the darkness as children romped from one display to the next.

Maybe on some other issues, at some other time of year, I'll be like Dr. Seuss' Grinch with a heart two sizes too small.

I just can't muster any outrage over this.

This column reflects the opinion of Blake Fontenay. Contact him via email at blake.fontenay@tcpalm.com or at 772-232-5424.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Treasure Coast spending on holiday decorations provides joy | Opinion

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