The Harnett County Board of Commissioners heard a request to make the county the new permanent home of the Freedom Balloon Fest, Project Uplift USA and decided they needed more time to evaluate the logistics — which includes the use of sheriff’s office and county EMS personnel during the event.
The request came during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday morning.
Officials with the event also want to make Harnett County the permament home of the balloon fest. Brian Hoyle, who represented Project Uplift USA — the organization which hosts and sponsors the fest — told commissioners the group wants the event to become a part of the cultural assests to Harnett County.
For 2019, the group wants to place a scaled-down version of the event at Harnett Central Middle School, something the Harnett County School Board of Education approved in February.
“This not a once and done event, we have zero desire to move this event around, we’re not Ringling Brothers, we want a home,” he said. “Given the proximity of Harnett County to the nation’s largest Army base and the richness of heritage with the military in North Carolina in general, hopefully we can make this something that becomes a cultral resource for generations to come, that’s our goal.”
While the event is all volunteer, there are related expenses, most notably the cost to supply sheriff’s deputies and emergency personnel during the event’s four-day run over Memorial Day weekend.
Harnett County Manager Paula Stewart it would roughly cost the county around $57,000.
“The sheriff’s office’s projection includes staffing, paying personnel and all the things they’ll need,” Mr. Stewart said. “They need things like ATV’s, they’ll need golf carts, they’ll have to rent the things they don’t have.”
She said the emergency services part could be as high as $18,000 with everything they need taken into consideration.
“There’s around $18,600,” she said. “That includes EMS, fire, having the mobile command post there, having everything manned. As long as the event is open someone will be there from all branches of public safety.”
The largest concerns raised were about traffic and parking. The school is located at the intersection of NC 210 and Harnett Central Road.
“May, agricutlurally, farmers have already started,” said commissioner vice chairman Howard Penny. “That campus will not handle 90,000 to 100,000 people, even if it’s scaled back to only 60,000 or 70,000. My concern is where we are going to put the vehicles and how are we going to get the people and stage them and get them to the event.”
He said the logistics are still unclear as far as he was concerned and anticipated several difficulties in that regard.
“A crowd that large, I don’t know logistically where we’re going to put the cars, the people, the vehicles to get them to there,” Mr. Penny said. “They’re going to have come from Lillington, Angier or some place because all of those fields around there are going to have crops. And a farmer’s not going to let you use his land.”
Mr. Hoyle said he understood Mr. Penny’s concerns for both the farmers and the logistics
“To clarify, I think our objective given the timeline remaing from the fundraising perspective and a logistic perspective, we’re not anticipating have the kind of attendance in 2019 that we’ve had in the past by virtue of the programming we’re looking to have,” he said. “The programming we’re scaling things to is specifically a Field of Flags intiative.”
He said while flying balloons will be a part of the event, Mr. Hoyle told commissioners it would not be the centerpiece for 2019.
“Flying might be overhead or launching from, but with the intent of inviting the public to come see all of the programming we have done,” he said. “So you might hear messaging that would say Project Uplift USA has pilots come to remind us (about the meaning of Memorial Day) as Harnett County prepares for the balloon fest in 2020.”
Mr. Hoyle outlined the program and explained the nonprofit nature of the event. He said the priority of the fest is to showcase a Field of Flags to honor the fallen and those who have served their country.
“In 2019 it’s realistic for us to say we would be engaging in our Field of Flags honor,” he said. “We have volunteers and the folks from AmVets Service Foundation. They supply the flags and then they receive the funds for that and the funds they have go out to their youth education programs.”
Mr. Hoyle told commissioners because of the short notice and difficult parking and access because of the location of the school, the focus of this year’s event would be shifted from the balloons — which would fly for two hours after sunset and two hours before — to the Field of Flags.
“That way we wouldn’t be drawing the large massive crowds,” he said. “Nor would be taking on nearly the kind of budget considerations for the county sheriff and EMS and fire. The idea being keeping our forward of growth and awareness of the event on mission as it relates to Memorial Day weekend.”
By a 5-0 vote, the panel agreed to discuss the situation at their work session next Tuesday.
The commissioners also approved the hiring of two part-time Workforce Development Eligibility positions. The original request was for one full-time, after consideration by Charlotte Leach of Harnett County Workforce Development.
“This position will serve as a workforce development eligibility specialist,” she said. “They will do the follow-ups and scanning-in for the case managers. It would be a part time person for the morning and the afternoons.”
The board approved the request 5-0.
In other business, the commissioners approved a request by Harnett Regional Water for an engineering agreement with Dewberry Engineers from Raleigh in the amount of $497,105 to design and provide construction administration and observation of the School Waste Water Extension Project.