Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bucks for the bang; Meriden City Council finds money for July 4 fireworks

As published in the Record Journal Thursday June 20, 2013

By Dan Brechlin 
Record-Journal staff ) 317-2266

MERIDEN — Fourth of July fireworks will go on this year, as the City Council unanimously approved spending $25,000 for the show earlier this week, using taxpayer money for the second consecutive year.

In 2009, Meriden stopped funding fireworks and the event was moved from Hubbard Park to Westfield Meriden mall under private sponsorship. Just a few weeks before July 4 last year, city officials were notified that the mall would not hold the event. To save the fireworks, the council appropriated $20,000 just before the holiday.

This year was similar, with the council using expected funds from a surplus to fund $25,000 worth of fireworks.

“It’s such a tradition for Meriden in an iconic location over there in Hubbard Park and people enjoy it,” Mayor Michael S. Rohde said. “The money was available, so the councilors just decided it would be a good idea.”

Some residents have asked why the city is spending the money and why donations are
not sought instead. Fireworks in Wallingford are funded through private donations, having been removed from the town budget in an effort to cut costs.

Republican City Councilor Dan Brunet said it may make sense to take a closer look at the fireworks issue, but he doesn’t see an issue with the expenditure.

“So many people actually attend the annual event,” Brunet said. “This year it went a little under the radar and it was too late to pull for donations.”

Councilor Steven Iovanna, a Democrat, agreed that the popularity of the fireworks made approving the funds an easier decision. Still, rethinking how they are funded could be something to address in the next fiscal year, he said.

“It would be good if we could find another single donor or group of donors to cover the cost or at least defray the cost,” he said.

Raising the money through donations is difficult, said Wallingford Town Councilor Jason Zandri. For the last four years, Zandri has been among a small corps of people fundraising for the town’s fireworks.

“There is nothing easy about what I’m doing,” Zandri warned, noting that each year the goal has only narrowly been met.

Wallingford has secured The Campus at Greenhill as a $15,000 sponsor for the last two years. The rest of the funds are raised through private donations and at a dinner.

Zandri said many will question
if the fireworks are worth it because it is something people want, but do not necessarily need.

“When things are bad, we need these types of things,” said Zandri, who is running for mayor. “The community needs these types of activities to keep the community looking on the bright side.”

Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. has said that budget issues are to blame for the absence of
fireworks funding.

“I don’t dislike
fireworks ,” Dickinson told the Record-Journal last month. “I think they’re fun, actually.”

But the cost of fireworks could make them a questionable expense.

“It’s a difficult decision because, at the end of the day, it’s just fireworks,” Iovanna said. “On the other hand, it’s an important thing. Everybody has always gone as kid and brings their kids now. And it’s a huge patriotic thing.”

Rohde agreed, noting that it is an important event for the city. In his resolution, Rohde noted that the holiday “should be appropriately celebrated in keeping with the expectations of our residents.”

“It ranks with the lights in the park at Christmas and the Daffodil Festival,” Rohde said. “Those are things that put Meriden on the map. It’s free and allows people to enjoy with their families. I think all of that factored in with the decision.”

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