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The high cost of celebrating our liberty

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POSTED June 10, 2009 1:45 a.m.
The price of liberty is high.

And celebrating it isn’t much cheaper either.

Manteca’s decision to shift the Fourth of July celebration to July 3 is being met  with a growing storm of criticism running the gamut from it being borderline sacrilegious to downright unpatriotic.

It is easy to understand the public sentiment. In a way, though, this is a good thing. Some 233 years after our forefathers declared their independence from rulers that taxed them without giving them representation we have evolved to a point where we expect government to care for our  every need – including community celebrations – while blissfully ignorant of what it is costing us.
There was a time in Manteca when the Fourth of July was a truly community orientated event. It was funded by the sale of commemorative special edition Pepsi bottles to a Mantecaopoly game and even Manteca coins. The proceeds – as well as outright donations – covered the tab for the parade, an old-fashioned community gathering and aerial fireworks.

They didn’t, however, ever cover the cost of support services the city provides cost in excess of $10,000 (the cost of one-tenth of a police officer between benefits and salary for a year) from police to firefighters to street crews to stage such a celebration. It becomes progressively higher when it’s a holiday on a day-off as it reaches the level of triple overtime. The city simply ate the cost in the past as part of its general fund commitment.

Instead of a volunteer group handling the celebration we now expect the city to do it all for us. It is true the Manteca Police Officers Association helps generate upwards of $8,000 toward the $20,000 tab and the Sunrise Kiwanis are now picking up the cost of the parade from their Pumpkin Fair tab receipts.

Other than that, it comes from money collected on growth for sewer allocation certainty –bonus bucks. While the money collected is unrestricted, people should know that many fees assessed growth are or were too low for years. It was bonus bucks, for example, that made it possible to complete the Union Road fire station. Instead of investing it in amenities we burn it up in a dazzling display on the Fourth of July.

Not saying it is wrong for the city to pay for fireworks, but government burns through a lot of money and we’re happy with them doing that when it suits our biases and wants but totally unhappy when we’re not in alignment.

Having said that, the Fourth of July overtime problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon nor is the municipal budget crisis.

If there isn’t a community-based swell of volunteers willing to make the Fourth of July work independent of the city, then maybe we need to look at other ways of financing the celebration. The Fourth of July falls on Sunday next year. To avoid it being celebrated on July 3 again or even on July 5, maybe the answer is to add a $1,000 surcharge to every community group that secures a fireworks booth.

It would generate $20,000. If the police officers – who essentially are using the city’s booth – continue with 40 percent of their sales going to the city’s Fourth of July fund, Manteca would then have the money to cover the celebration and the municipal personnel costs it incurs.

That way people who voluntarily buy fireworks are helping pick up the tab. By the same token, non-profit groups who are taking advantage of “government assistance” in the form of allowing fireworks sales and restricted them to a set number of non-profits and not allowing retailers to sell them will in effect be paying for the privileges and opportunity afforded them.

Between the fire department fee and other permits it means they are set back about $1,400.  Given that the worst booth in past years has netted the organization $6,000 with some as high as $20,000, the $1,400 isn’t going to cripple them or deter them from applying to secure a fireworks selling permit.

It also means the money – at least $1,000 – is going to something tangible they can identify with.

The republic literally was created on the backs and with the blood of volunteer citizens eager to break free of too much government control that they viewed as suffocating the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Today, we expect the government to pick up the tab for our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness forgetting that the government is simply taking our money to do it.
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