DOWNEY - City Council members on Tuesday agreed to continue hosting a July 4 fireworks celebration but, unlike in years past, this year's event will be funded using tax dollars from the city's general fund.The City Council also turned down an unexpected offer from Calvary Chapel Downey to take over hosting duties and assume the financial responsibilities. Donations from residents and businesses funded the last two fireworks event. Mark Sauter, who is in charge of emergency preparedness for the city, was chief fundraiser, soliciting contributions from businesses, service clubs and residents. This year, however, city manager Gerald Caton objected to using Sauter in the same capacity. "I don't think it's right to have staff asking businesses for money," Caton said Tuesday. "It can be taken the wrong way." On a 4-1 vote, the council approved a $30,000 contract with a pyrotechnics company to produce a 20-minute fireworks show at Downey High School. Councilman Mario Guerra, who voted against the deal, said the actual cost will be greater when factoring in police, fire and city personnel time. In an interview after the council meeting, Guerra said he was "shocked, disappointed and amazed" the fireworks program was approved. "I want to make it clear that I support a fireworks show but not at this cost," said Guerra, who voted against an employment contract with city labor unions last month over budget concerns. "This seems like reckless spending to me at this time. We can't afford to do it this way, especially when we had alternatives." Other council members, however, called the decision to host a city-sponsored program a "safety issue" and expressed uncertainty that Calvary Chapel Downey could organize a fireworks show here in a relatively short period of time. Rick Rodriguez, a Downey resident who worships at Calvary Chapel Downey, said the church hosts a fireworks celebration each July 4 at Cerritos College but would prefer to host the show in Downey. "I think (the fireworks show) is worth $30,000 out of the general fund. I would vote for this all day long," said Mayor Pro Tem Roger Brossmer, adding that the city should begin discussions with Calvary Chapel Downey earlier next year. "This is a safety issue and a community issue. In my opinion it's money well-spent." Councilman David Gafin hesitated before voting in support of the fireworks. "We're in the middle of a hiring freeze and contract negotiations," Gafin said. "I agree with all sides here." In registering his support, Councilman Fernando Vasquez emphasized the importance of a July 4 celebration. "This is a national holiday. Families will be making memories here," he said. Mayor Luis Marquez said the city council "has made a commitment to hosting a July 4 show." "I don't want to risk Calvary Chapel not getting the facilities and then we're left without a fireworks show," he said, adding that residents and businesses can still make donations by contacting City Hall. The fireworks show is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. inside Downey High School's football stadium. Admission is free. The Downey Police Department will provide security and Downey firefighters will supervise the fireworks operations. Food and drinks will be sold by Downey High booster groups.
********** Published: May 12, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 4