Boca Bash cost taxpayers more than $46,000 this year

BOCA RATON — One of Boca Raton’s biggest parties cost taxpayers more than $46,000 this year for police and fire services.

The Boca Bash, a yearly event in Lake Boca Raton, brings out hundreds of boats and thousands of people. Canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least a dozen people were arrested at the event this year in April.

The $46,000 figure comes only from overtime costs associated with paying the first responders at the event. The police department spent $34,635.31 and the fire department spent $12,091.36 in overtime pay for a total of $46,726.67, newly released records show.

That cost is comparable to previous years, according to a spokesman for the Boca Raton Police Department, although that number does not include all the city’s costs.

The police department spent $34,317 in 2019; $35,401 in 2018; $57,869 in 2017, when it took place over two weekends due to rain; and $28,262 in 2016.

Mayor Scott Singer said the cost is a financial burden on the city, but a relatively small investment toward safety at the event.

“As burdensome as the costs are, the greater costs we’re always concerned about is obviously possible injury or death of the participants. That’s why we stress safety even though state law limits our ability to control who docks in the water,” he said.

The costs of the Boca Bash are considerably higher than most other events that the city sends first responders to, given the number of attendees, Singer said.

A city spokeswoman said ESPN pays for police and fire rescue services at the Boca Raton Bowl, a college football championship game played at Florida Atlantic University that typically attracts between 20,000 and 25,000 attendees. As part of a sponsorship, the city donates the cost of first responder services to the PGA Boca Raton Championship golf tournament each year, the city spokeswoman said.

The Boca Bash got its start after someone held a giant birthday party for a friend more than 10 years ago. Since then, it seems to grow bigger each year, except last year when city and state officials canceled it due to COVID-19.

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The issue of state vs. local control of the waterway came to a head, and city officials got special permission to ban anchoring the week the Boca Bash was planned.

Singer says he’s been lobbying the state for more control to limit anchoring in Lake Boca, which is connected to the Intracoastal Waterway.

Other agencies, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, U.S. Coast Guard, Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and Boynton Beach Police Department, also provide personnel and other resources like boats at the Boca Bash.

Since then, there has been a visible increase in police and fire rescue units at the event and each year. There are typically a handful of arrests for boating while under the influence of alcohol, disorderly intoxication or related charges.

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