Last year's lights

Holiday lights shown in Williams Bay during the 2017-18 holiday season have been installed by volunteers in the past, but this year village taxpayers are paying $2,140. (File photo/Regional News)

WILLIAMS BAY — The magic of Christmas came with an unexpected light bill this year for Williams Bay taxpayers.

The Williams Bay Village Board agreed Jan. 21 to pay the Santa Cause charitable organization $2,140 for the installation of lights on village property and structures.

“It was unexpected. It was a surprise,” Village President Bill Duncan said of the bill.

The bill came from Nancy Waspi, director of Santa Cause, an organization associated with Gage Marine Corp. that raises money for charities during the Christmas holiday season.

Using revenue collected during Gage Marine’s popular holiday season Santa Cruise boat rides, Santa Cause distributes proceeds to area nonprofits. To help draw crowds for the boat rides, organizers have arranged to decorate the Williams Bay downtown business district with an elaborate holiday light display that has become part of the village’s holiday season.

In previous years, Santa Cause relied on volunteers from the charities it represented to put up and take down the holiday lights. But this year, Waspi said, organizers had to hire help to dismantle the display.

Waspi said installing the lights takes about 225 hours, and the job became too big for volunteers.

“It’s a lot to ask of volunteers,” she said.

Bills were also sent to the owners of businesses and other buildings that Santa Cause decorated this past holiday season.

Despite being surprised by the bill, members of the village board agreed to pay the $2,140.

“Nancy Waspi is a good, hard-working soul,” Duncan said. “But that wasn’t in our budget.”

The village was billed for decorations at the bath house, the fence and harbor master’s hut at the boat launch, the fire station, Barrett Memorial Library, the pavilion at Edgewater Park, the Geneva Lake Law Enforcement building, the recreation center at the Lions Field House and village hall.

Each installation was billed at $250, which Waspi said was the lowest-priced sponsorship level for Santa Cause.

The village was also billed to replace a timer, an extension cord and lights that were missing at the fire station.

Waspi said most buildings require at least three people to get them decked out with holiday lights and other decorations.

Waspi said she mentioned at a meeting of the Williams Bay Business Association that the Santa Cause would have to charge property owners for the holiday light installation. Duncan and other village officials were present at the time, she said.

Waspi, however, said she should have alerted the village directly, and she said she would do that in future years, if necessary.

For the 2019 holiday season Waspi said she is considering soliciting bids from parties interested in handling the decoration job. And she is considering charging the village and businesses by the linear foot of holiday lights.

Waspi said the village has been helpful to Santa Cause.

The village already gave money to help pay for the decorations. The village gave $5,000 for the lighted arches at the entrance to the municipal beach and pier, and another $4,000 this year for purchase of banners that were lighted and suspended over the street from two poles.

“They’ve been very supportive,” Waspi said.

The Santa Cruise boat rides ran for about five weeks this year, between Nov. 23 and Dec. 31.

The special boat rides did well this year, with about 17,500 riders, an increase from 14,500 the previous year. The event raised more than $115,000 for Santa Cause charities, up from $89,000.

Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.