City of Mercer Island to cut Summer Celebration toward balancing future budgets

January 29, 2019 | by Erin Sirianni

Explore +

Here’s a post we’re sad to share, though since My Mercer Island is an events-focused publication, we felt many of our readers would be interested in this news.

Mercer Island’s annual Summer Celebration festival is set to be cancelled as the City takes measures toward achieving financial sustainability following the failure of the Proposition 1 levy measure.

We’ve shared the announcement in full below, and we welcome your comments as well:

“Following the November 2018 failure of the Proposition 1 levy measure, the City regrettably had to make a number of reductions in non-essential programs and services in order to balance the 2019-2020 Biennial Budget. Many of these initial cuts were borne by two departments: Youth & Family Services, and Parks & Recreation. Some cuts were temporarily softened with donations or one-time fund transfers.

Parks and Recreation ended its entire lifeguard program, shrank senior health services, and in addition canceled special events such as Movies in the Park, Spring Egg Hunt, and the Holiday Tree Lighting/Firehouse Munch.  Out of necessity due to staff attrition, these cuts were implemented starting January 1, 2019, and also include reduced hours and full Sunday closures at the Community Center.

In subsequent discussions, the City Council determined that even deeper cuts were necessary in order to lessen the impact of a long-term deficit that’s still projected to reach $4 million by the time the next budget is drafted in late 2020.  As a result, City spending will be trimmed by an additional $1.2 million in 2019-2020, and the majority of these further reductions will come from the Parks and Recreation Department.

This next round of proposed cuts is expected to impact a larger number of residents as it covers many annual community events including the largest and longest-running, Summer Celebration. The family-friendly event is a regionally known, multi-day festival that draws approximately 25,000 attendees to a wide range of activities for all ages and interests. This well-loved event includes a Grand Parade (50-70 entries including marching bands), a major fireworks show, and dozens of public performances throughout the weekend. Other typical highlights are: hands-on arts & crafts activities, a kids’ inflatable fun zone, skateboard competitions, boat rides around the island, a car show, over a hundred booths for vendors and other organizations, and 15 food trucks.

Both full-time staff positions largely responsible for planning and orchestrating this multi-day event were vacated prior to the November 2018 election, and with the failure of the levy, there is insufficient funding to refill them.  These two vacated positions had a wide range of responsibilities directly relating to Summer Celebration, that included:

  • Developing annual theme and related concepts/activities during the winter
  • Coordinating all contracts and permitting; negotiating all aspects of fireworks display
  • Extensive marketing and promotion
  • Community relations with participants and local businesses/residents
  • Recruiting vendors, food trucks, and entertainers
  • Planning street closures, barricades, crowd control, parking, and transportation
  • Developing weekend event schedule and cultural/musical performances
  • Ensuring adequate emergency services, first aid, risk management, and overnight security
  • Coordinating participation of all City Departments
  • Scheduling and overseeing day-of-event volunteers
  • Supervising complete clean-up and restoration of event facilities and park lands

Even accounting for modest annual revenues of approximately $25,000, Summer Celebration costs the City almost $115,000 to produce, and requires over 1,400 hours of staff time throughout the weekend from many different departments in direct support of the event.

While volunteers are vital in supporting many day-of-event aspects, the City believes a professional, paid coordinating staff is essential to produce a safe, high-quality, multi-day entertainment event of this complexity.
In addition to Summer Celebration, the two vacated positions coordinated other well-known events, canceled beginning this year, that include: the Leap for Green Sustainability Fair, Community Campout, and the All-Island Track Meet.

Parks and Recreation Director Jessi Bon said, “Our focus is on preserving core services that serve the greatest number of community members. The maintenance and safety of our parks, playgrounds and trails remains our top priority.”  Remaining recreation staff will assume responsibility for 2019 events still on the calendar; these will be listed in the 2019 Spring/Summer Recreation Guide available in March at:

These reductions will be finalized at the Council’s annual planning session (February 1 and 2), then implemented gradually throughout the remainder of the year.  The City continues to project a significant deficit starting in 2021 which will necessitate future service and staffing reductions – the City is working with outside consultants on a fiscal sustainability plan to identify the best solutions to fund critical operations and find efficiencies.

Contact the City at [email protected] with questions.”