The City Council unanimously agreed on April 27 to not provide city staff time for this year’s Fourth of July festivities, saving about $80,000 in the city’s over-burdened General Fund. The annual event usually includes a downtown parade, entertainment, food and a 20-minute fireworks display along the waterfront.
A private fundraising effort led by former Councilman Allen Payton was launched in an attempt to save just the fireworks. “All of the things were coming together,” said Payton. “People were stepping up and providing all of the aspects of what was needed for July Fourth along with fundraising from some of the large companies in the area. The challenge was: we were not going to be able to get enough police. They told us we need 35 to 40 officers for a four-hour minimum overtime.”
The cost for the officers would have been about $16,000. In addition, the private effort would need to pay an additional $40,000 for the other city staff time involved. While it was a tough challenge attempting to raise that amount of money in just a few weeks, the deal killer turned out to be that the city could not spare the police officers.
“Even if we had raised enough money, there wasn’t enough police officers to cover,” said Payton. “We are down 20 officers and 10 CSOs (community service officers). They are already understaffed, and have guys going on vacation. We can’t use private security, because if something happens, they still have to call the police. The good news is we have all of this lined up for next year and think we can make it happen next year.”
The other good news for those who still want to participate in a community event on the Fourth is that there will be a parade beginning at 1 p.m. around Somersville Towne Center, followed by a choir singing patriotic songs inside the mall.
“We want to celebrate our nation’s birthday, but realize what dire straits the city’s in,” said Councilwoman Martha Parson, who is leading the effort along with Susan Davis, wife of Mayor Jim Davis. “The fireworks effort ran into the police were not able to take care of closing streets and things for a parade. Susan and I were brainstorming about not closing any streets. We thought about what the East County Military Families do when they walk with a candlelight vigil around the Somersville Towne Center (on Sept. 11).”
Parsons said the scaled-down festivities would be in the community spirit of the recent Keep Antioch Beautiful cleanup day. “The more the merrier,” she said. “The community can still celebrate our nation’s birth. Everybody can come participate, whether being in the parade with flags and friends or watching and clapping.”
For more information, call Parsons or Davis at 925-757-2020. Parade applications can be downloaded at www.art4antioch.org/docs/2010parade-application.pdf.
The council’s vote was to cancel city support for only this year’s Fourth of July festivities. But Parson said that will likely be the case next year as well. “We are probably going to be looking at the same options, but will start now in planning for it,” she said. “Hopefully, next year we will have fireworks. I don’t think the budget will be good for probably another two years. Things are turning around, but it’s slow.”
At the April 27 meeting, Councilman Brian Kalinowski noted that celebrating the Fourth is not an essential city service at a time that important services are being reduced, staff members laid off and dozens of city positions remain unfilled. “The Fourth of July display is nice to have,” he said. “Not every community has one, or a parade either. Some go camping. This is sort of forcing folks to celebrate among themselves with friends and family, which doesn’t make people less patriotic.
“It’s a reality of where we are at. This is occurring during budget season. We have one person in charge of five (city) departments, and some exist just in name. I am not in support of the Fourth of July event in downtown Antioch – unless somebody wants to sponsor the $80,000.”
Mayor Davis said, “It goes against my total grain and every fiber of my being to not celebrate the Fourth of July. But with the predicament the city is in, I agree that this is the year we postpone it until we are back on our feet a year or two down the road.”