NEW YORK — Frigid weather and blustery winds didn't chill the enthusiasm at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, where spectators bundled up in blankets and sleeping bags and the giant character balloons flew lower than usual.
SpongeBob, Charlie Brown, the Grinch and other big balloons were cleared for takeoff just before Thursday's parade, although some floated at noticeably lower-than-usual heights above the people holding their tethers, like the outstretched hand of the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" balloon that appeared to hit some of his handlers on their wool cap-covered heads.
The 21 degrees (minus 6 Celsius) at the start made it one of the coldest Thanksgivings in the city in decades, and the temperature warmed only a few degrees as the parade rolled along.
Officials had been ready to order the 16 helium-filled balloons to a lower altitude or removed entirely if sustained winds exceeded 23 mph (37 kph) and gusts exceeded 34 mph (54 kph). There have been mishaps and injuries in the past when gusts blew them off course.
Bystanders refused to let the cold put a damper on watching the parade, breaking out blankets and sleeping bags to watch the balloons, bands and floats go by.
Tony Stout had camped out with his extended family since 2 a.m. to make sure they got a good view of his son, who was in the parade with the Ohio State University marching band.
"Ohhh, I'm freezing and numb, but excited," said Stout, who had traveled from Columbus, Ohio.
Dylan Mahoney, who has come to the parade every year for the past dozen years, said he stayed warm by layering, including several pairs of socks.
"It's one of the coldest," he said, but "we've watched in the rain before."
He said he loves the tradition of attending the parade, driving from Leonia, New Jersey, in the early hours to see the bands and balloons and racing for a good spot.
Entertainers including Diana Ross, John Legend, Martina McBride and the Muppets from "Sesame Street" performed in the frigid cold.
Macy's later apologized for "technical difficulties" after viewers ripped into singer Rita Ora for what they saw as awkward lip-syncing.
The British artist appeared out of sync with the vocals that viewers heard during parts of her televised performance of "Let You Love Me," and the episode sparked a flurry of online commentary.
Macy's apologized via Twitter, saying "several recording artists experienced technical difficulties that negatively impacted their performance" and were beyond the performers' control.
Ora tweeted thanks to Macy's for "the honesty."
In another moment that got attention, a performance from the Broadway musical "The Prom" included a kiss between two female cast members. The producers told Entertainment Weekly it was the parade's "first LGBTQ kiss."
Representatives for Macy's and broadcaster NBCUniversal didn't respond to inquiries.
The city may be one step closer to the completion of the Rio De Flag flood control project after council passed a resolution providing the city with $33 million of bonding capacity along with an increase in the city’s stormwater fees.
This fee increase will be far lower than what was first proposed however, raising the stormwater fee only by $1.48 on July 1, 2019, for a rate of $3.74.
The city would then take out bonds to cover the remainder of the project, which the increased fee would be leveraged against.
Previous proposals would have increased the fee far more, but would have avoided the use of bonded money. With the previous options, it also would have taken the city much longer to raise the money and, as city manager Barbra Goodrich explained, developments with the project may mean the city needs the capital in a more timely manner.
Staff had provided the bonding option because the Army Corps of Engineers, which the city has been working with to complete the flood control project, may be able to fund the project sooner than predicted, Goodrich said.
When Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite toured the Rio De Flag last month with Mayor Coral Evans and City Councilmember Charlie Odegaard, staff were informed that funding could be coming soon.
“We did not know (when the original fees were proposed that Semonite) actually had work program funding that he could advance to us in such a short order,” Goodrich said. “We thought we had at least 10 or 12 years to accumulated these funds. It's only been over the summer that we learned that we had this opportunity to accelerate the project.”
And should the Army Corps suddenly have funding in the next five years, Goodrich suggested the city may want to be in a position to match that as to allow construction to begin.
“We are at the point with the Army Corps of Engineers, on the Rio projects, where they want to be assured that we have the funding to hold up our side of the project just as we want to be assured that they will hold up their side of the project,” Goodrich said. “They may be asking for very real solid insurance that the city has the $36 million.”
However, not everyone was so optimistic as both City Councilmember Scott Overton and Evans expressed doubts over the Corps claims.
Based on the long history the project has had, and the number of times the Army Corps has not been able to fund the project, Overton said he was dubious that the Corps would come through this time.
And because of this, he felt it was unfair to ask residents to pay more for something that may not happen.
“I find it’s awkward and hard for the citizens to get the funds when for 15 years we've been working on the project and we haven't quite got there,” Overton said.
Because of these concerns, council decided to postpone implementation of the fee increase until July 1, 2019. By then most of the project plans will be completed and the Corps may have designated money for the project.
And if neither happens, council can still adjust the fee back down to the current rate before it even takes effect.
Goodrich pointed out that even if the Corps again fails to fund the project, the city may need to take on the issue of flood control alone, something that will certainly need as much funding as working with the Corps.
Including the Rio project, the city has $55 million in flood related capital works projects, according to staff.
The Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, which had opposed the original proposals for fee increases applauded the council's decision.
"We are relieved, as City fee hikes only increase the local cost of living to local residents," Joe Galli, senior advisor for public policy at the Chamber said via email. "The Mayor and Council's direction is a big win for the community on this issue, and we're hopeful for more community wins like this from the new Council."
Both Flagstaff Unified School District and Coconino Community College sought property tax overrides in this month’s election. While the FUSD Prop 424 override passed, CCC’s Prop 417 did not, leaving many county residents wondering why.
According to the Statement of Votes Cast, which was released November 15, Prop 417 was largely supported by the city at about 53 percent approval, but lacked similar support in areas outside Flagstaff. In the rest of the county, only about 34 percent of voters approved the proposition, with some precincts’ approval at as little as 11 percent. In one precinct, the proposition even received zero percent approval, though that precinct has very few residents and only 20 registered voters, only seven of whom cast ballots.
Although the proposition did not pass in this election, CCC administrators are already seeking other sources of sustainable funding to expand existing programs, like the veterans program, while also funding in-demand trainings like automotive, welding and plumbing.
“We will continue to look for innovative funding,” CCC Preisdent Colleen Smith said. “We will continue to work hard to meet the needs of our community – the entire county.”
The college plans to reach out to voters through focus groups and surveys to determine why they voted against Prop 417. For now, though, it seems a county-wide lack of knowledge could be to blame.
“We do cover the entire county and it’s a large county, so getting that message out to all the citizens of the county is challenging sometimes,” Ali Applin, CCC's Community Engagement Executive in Residence, said.
As a leading local institution for training firefighters, nurses, emergency medical technicians and other first responders, Smith said CCC provides the basic infrastructure of the community.
The secondary property tax has existed since 1999 in order to build the Lone Tree campus; the override would have allowed a seven-year extension of the tax to fund new certificate and training programs. The lack of this funding going forward will not affect other areas, including employment at the college.
“There are programs [that the community had requested] that we will not be able to start at this point, but we are not losing positions,” Smith said.
Lack of funding is the true issue plaguing CCC and community colleges throughout Arizona, Smith said.
“It’s the underfunding that impacts the college more than the idea that one ballot initiative passed or didn’t pass,” she said.
CCC’s current tax rate, $0.47, falls far below the state average of $1.81. As the second largest county by area in the contiguous United States, Coconino County lacks the funding needed to support a community its size. Its current funding is significantly disproportionate to its needs, as noted by CCC faculty.
“Our college and our district officials are very good stewards of public money and we work very hard to make do with the means we have,” Smith said. “Quite a few people do the jobs of two or three people because we are small and underfunded.”
Nevertheless, the college will carry on as best it can to provide for students with optimism.
“We’re not losing hope,” Applin said. “[The college is] a great resource. We are excited about moving forward.”
Smith added, “I’d like to thank all the partners and champions because we have a lot of people working hard to support the college and make sure the college moves forward…It’s [always] a great day to be at CCC.”