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Old 05-28-2008, 09:55 PM
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Christmas Tree A Headache For Florida City

Poor Port St. Lucie, Florida. For years they have been teased in the media because their Christmas tree kept dying. Season after season the city spent thousands in an effort to replace a beloved city symbol in a tree that had served well for decades but succumbed to a disease. They planted new trees each year for six year before finally giving up and paying an outrageous rate for an artificial tree last year.
So this year, they are trying to get it right.
Having been burned with an unpopular $11,750 Christmas tree rental last year, city employees are asking council members early this year whether they want to continue renting a pricey tree - and take advantage of an early-bird discount before June 28 - or forego the holiday tradition in this tree-challenged city.
For the second year, Budget Director Dave Pollard is recommending renting rather than buying a faux fir, saying it would cost more to buy an artificial tree and pay crews to erect and store it each year.
Council members tried to cancel the rental for last year in November after learning of the steep price tag but were told it was too late. The Sept. 1 deadline had passed.
Determined not to follow that course again, Pollard wrote to City Manager Don Cooper last week, asking for direction well in advance of the Christmas holidays.
Two council members said they won’t go for the pricey rental but would support buying a cut tree at a fraction of the cost. Vice Mayor Jack Kelly said he will support a tree only if a donor agrees to pay the tab, much like what occurred last year after people complained about the $11,750 rental cost.
“I’ve been told we could get a nice cut tree from up north for about $3,000,” Kelly said. “As much attention as this tree gets, nobody could get better publicity for $3,000.”
Councilwoman Michelle Berger agreed that a live, cut tree is the way to go. Anything is better than the “ugly” artificial tree displayed in front of city hall last year, she said.
“I was disappointed to think that anybody, no matter who it is, wrote a check for $11,750 for that tree,” Berger said. “Buy a cut tree, put it in the middle of the civic center plaza and let it smell like Christmas.”
Parks crews plan to move the annual tree-lighting ceremony from city hall to the civic center being built at U.S. 1 and Walton Road. Eight real Christmas trees have died of mysterious causes on the front lawn of city hall since 1999, prompting the controversial decision last year to rent.
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