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Should the city be in the Fourth of July business?

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POSTED January 21, 2010 2:38 a.m.
I do not need the government to help me celebrate the Fourth of July.

I do need the government though to provide police and fire protection, streets, sewer, water, garbage collection, parks, community planning, and even basic recreation programs to help direct kids in the right direction in their idle time and to help the elderly stay sharp and healthy.

Manteca’s celebration this year – if all goes as planned on July 3 once everything from the community gathering with gate admission to the serial fireworks – will leave $22,297 in unfunded expenses to be covered by bonus bucks. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, that is about half of the salary and benefits of a municipal parks or streets worker. We are not out the woods yet financially as a city. Bonus bucks can be used – and have been used – to help balance the municipal budget.

Having said that, in the past when non-profits were in charge of the Fourth of July events such as the disbanded Fourth of July Committee and the Manteca Chamber of Commerce, the city never worried about recovering $13,605 for police and parking staffing. But then again, those were back in the days when tax dollars flowed like wine.

As much as you’d like to cut corners, city policy for a reason calls for a police presence – or paid security of some type – at large gatherings. You want paid professional police officers present because you never know what might occur with a large number of people. That aside, the city really needs to get out of the Fourth of July business or else get a bit more realistic.

One way would be starting in 2011 to charge $1,500 for each of the 14 fireworks booths that go to non-profits with the money being used exclusively for Fourth of July expenses. That would generate $21,000 of the $22,297 shortfall.

Better yet charge the $1,500 fee and kill the aerial fireworks. The city in a survey of fireworks stands noted last Independence Day – which was definitely in the depth of The Great Recession – saw some non-profit booth sales spike 40 percent because the fireworks were switched to a day earlier. Imagine what it would be like if the city cancelled them altogether. Non-profit sales should climb across the board easily covering the $1,500 fee and then some.

You could even go a step further and kill the Big League Dreams celebration and approach community groups – the Manteca Ministerial Association, the Manteca Chamber of Commerce or whoever – with the offer that if they staged the day-time celebration at a municipal park such as Woodward or Northgate that the city through the fireworks booth fees ($21,000) would cover all the municipal costs for police and parks staffing to the tune of $14,000 and provide that group with $7,000 in seed money for the celebration.

Right off the bat that would cover the cost of portable toilets, health inspection, and tent rental that comes to $2,000 under the city budget. That would leave $5,000 for the group to “earn” as they coordinate community booths for food, games, and such; community-style entertainment; and traditional events that could run the gamut from sack races, bubblegum blowing, ice sitting, and other such contests to an old-fashioned fireman’s bucket brigade. Give the group the ability to make more money with $25 to $50 per booth charge with the proviso they cannot charge admission.

If no group steps forward, then simply drop the $1,500 per booth charge for 2012 fireworks sale and keep the money collected already in an account should someone step forward for 2012.

In a pure world the government wouldn’t be involved one way or another in a Fourth of July celebration since there is something not quite right about the government footing the bill for people celebrating the fact that we have a governing system in place that we do have. It’s not exactly the equivalent of the old USSR staging May Day celebrations but is in the same general neck of the woods.

Government, as it is, burns up enough money that is collected for the “betterment” of society whether it is through general fund taxes and fees or a levy such as bonus bucks that are essentially paid by the buyer of every new home in Manteca. It doesn’t need to burn through $1,000 a minute for 15 minutes on July the Third or July the Fourth.
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