Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July Fourth fireworks: expendable in tough times?

As published in the Record Journal Tuesday July 2, 2013
By Kimberly Primicerio
Record-Journal staff

(203) 317-2279

WALLINGFORD - Fireworks are a Fourth of July fixture in many communities across the state. People look forward to seeing and hearing the colorful explosions in the sky on a warm summer night while with relatives and friends.

But with some municipalities dealing with difficult budgetary issues, there are often conversations about whether the fireworks shows should be publicly funded.
The city of Meriden faced a tough budget season, but it is still paying $25,000 for a July 7 fireworks show. In Wallingford, budget issues are the reason Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. doesn’t include money for fireworks in his fiscal plan. Instead Wallingford residents and private companies fund the event like they have in the past. Town officials and residents have mixed feelings on municipalities spending money on fireworks. Some say it’s a feel-good summer activity, while others think the money could be spent on more important things.
“We did it to benefit all our families that go out and see the fireworks,” Meriden City Councilor Kevin Scarpati said about the council approving $25,000 for the firework show. “We’re still being conscientious.”
Scarpati said in years past, $40,000 had been spent on fireworks, but such an amount is no longer feasible.
“We still want to have this for the residents,” he said. “We had a difficult budget year, we had to cut back, but we can still put on the fireworks for the taxpayers. It’s something they can be proud of. We didn’t want to let it go.”
More than 40 people, many Meriden residents, left comments on the Record-Journal’s Facebook page about the city paying $25,000 for a firework display. Some were in favor, but others thought spending money on fireworks wasn’t a good idea, considering the programs and jobs that were cut from the city’s budget.
Ashley Ramos said: “Priorities are all messed up. Education & kids need to come first.”
Christina Sanderson Taylor said: “The money could have gone to better use in the city. Summer program for the kids, saving Engine 3 and the schools in town just for a few examples.”
Kimberly Howe Tighe said: “Sadly I think it’s better spent elsewhere.”
And Andrew Marinelli said: “We should celebrate our nation’s independence.” Peter Verselli said: “Spend the money for the fireworks because it is for ALL the residents and not just a few.”
The city has a $185 million budget, Scarpati said. Residents pay their taxes, but don’t always see the benefits. A fireworks display shows taxpayers that they’re still cared about and that the city still does something for them.
In 2009, after Dickinson stopped allocating money for a fireworks display, Town Councilor Jason Zandri and a few others started raising money.
“When there are bad times, it’s more of a reason to have social events that are free,” Zandri said.
Fireworks and other types of free community events are the kind of things that make a town a community, Zandri said. He said if a town is in a good place financially, it should do it. “It gives off a sense of coming together,” Zandri said about the Wallingford fireworks. “It draws 10,000 people together.”
Zandri said he thought Meriden did the right thing by continuing fireworks in the city, but if the city is serious about cutting funding for the event next year, it should find a dedicated group of people willing to collect donations. The process of collecting money for such an event takes time, he said. He also pointed out that $25,000 isn’t enough money to save jobs, or even pay for the schools’ textbooks.
Privatization of the fireworks is an option that can be explored in the future, Scarpati said.
Rachel Ranis, a professor emeritus of sociology at Quinnipiac University, said Fourth of July fireworks bring people together.
“People love fireworks,” she said. “It gives them a sense of nation. They’re sharing an experience together.”
Old people and young people enjoy the event that provides everyone with joy, Ranis said. A whole community benefits from the fireworks, not just a small portion, she said.
“More people notice this,” Ranis said.

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