America's Financial Fireworks

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Is it unpatriotic to have a Fourth of July celebration without fireworks?

Or is it fiscally responsible?

That difficult choice is facing cities across America, as tight budgets have city managers weighing the mood-boosting value of throwing a traditional civic party against the realities of today's deficits.

From Redwood City, California, to Jersey City, New Jersey, they're skipping the pyrotechnics this year. Glendale, AZ, Louisville, CO, Springfield, MO, Fergus Falls, MN, even Palm Springs, CA, will have quiet skies on the Fourth.

For some communities, it's the second year in a row.

"I think it's a bummer," says a man in Antioch, California, a town desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy which has decided it can't afford to shoot fireworks off a barge in the Sacramento Delta. "What? Are you crazy?" says a tourist in Monterey, an upscale enclave down the coast which, too, is cutting out the fireworks display.

"Our fireworks event costs a quarter million dollars," says Monterey Assistant City Manager Fred Cohn. That includes more than the cost of the fireworks. There's also police overtime, public toilets, cleanup. "That quarter million dollars could pay for three maintenance workers over the span of an entire year," he says, "or restore the library to seven days a week." Monterey is facing a $5 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year, and the $250,000 it would take to celebrate Sunday night covers five percent of that hole.

But it's not all bad news. In fact, this story ends with a bang.

Earlier this week I reported from bankrupt Vallejo, California, which was facing its second year without fireworks. Residents and local businesses frantically tried to pull together the $18,000 needed to bring the pyrotechnics back, hoping it would cheer up demoralized residents. They felt confident they'd get the money, but then there were issues of permits, insurance, and ordering the actual fireworks.

Could it be done in time?

Fireworks provider Jeff Thomas of Pyro Spectaculars by Souza called me Thursday night to say he'd just shaken hands with Vallejo officials and been handed a contract. Vallejo will have a show this year. The town may not have much else, but for a few minutes on Sunday night, it'll be just like old times.

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