City Council discusses a taxpayer funded fireworks display



Tuesday night’s hot topic during the City Council meeting included the discussion and action of awarding a contract for a Falls City firework display to coincide with the 2023 Hot Air Balloon Festival. Mayor Harkendorff had requested that the city entertain the idea of hosting an annual fireworks show and it was deemed best to be held in conjunction with the Hot Air Balloon Festival.

City Administrator Nussbaum noted that the city hadn’t budgeted explicitly for this particular event; however, the money could come from the city’s economic development funds.

“One of the economic development goals within the 2014 comprehensive plan was to revive the hot air balloon festival, which the Chamber took on to do that,” stated Nussbaum. “I think this would be an additional feature that would improve that.”

Two vendors submitted bids for two options, a $15,000 and a $20,000 show. Submissions came from Wald & Co., Inc. of Greenwood, Missouri and PayUp$ucker Promotions from Everest, Kansas.

“You’re pretty much talking; a $15,000 show is going to be a 15-minute show,” said Nussbaum.

Councilperson Ractliffe took objection with asking the taxpayers to foot the bill of the firework show on the heels of record-high utility bills.

“Six days ago, our utility payments were due, and for many of us in town, our payments were double if not more than what they normally are. I think for a mayor who had his election campaign run on the fact that we spend ‘totally, totally a lot of money,’ asking taxpayers to spend $20,000 on fireworks, that essentially no one but the mayor is asking for, is extremely disrespectful to our town and our taxpayers,” said Councilperson Kaylie Ractliffe.

“I cannot justify spending $20,000; money that is not budgeted for, out of an economic development fund when there are a thousand other priorities that we have, for fireworks at an event that a lot of people put a lot of time and energy into planning to ensure that there is a lot to do,” said Ractliffe. “There is not necessarily a need for fireworks to entertain people, but I think adding fireworks and asking taxpayers to pay for it is not appropriate.”

Mayor Harkendorff stated many people had shown great interest in the event, as did Councilperson Buckminster.

“I’ve had a lot of people comment that they wish something like this would get brought back up,” said Buckminster. “Fireworks, a lot of money that goes up in a hurry, but it brings the community together and there are a lot of people who really enjoy it but can’t afford to leave town to go see the shows and this puts it right in their backdoors.”

Buckminster inquired about taking up donations in the future if this were to become an annual event.

“I’m sure there are some people in the community who would be willing to donate to this, possibly,” said Buckminster.

Councilperson Ractliffe responded that she has nothing against fireworks; it’s the idea of using public funds for an event that wasn’t in the budget.

“Asking taxpayers to pay for it in a year that it’s not budgeted for, especially, like I said, six days ago, a lot of us had our utility bills raised and that has absolutely nothing to do with this, but in the eyes of the taxpayers it’s going to matter where this $20,000 came from. Why are we paying for it? Especially when everything else done with the festival comes from donations, sponsorships, and grant money. I’m all for fireworks; I just don’t think asking taxpayers to fund it especially when it’s not budgeted for, it’s not the way to go about it,” said Ractliffe. “Everybody that I’ve talked to, they’ve seen the article where this is going to be talked about today and they seem excited about it until they read closer and realize that it’s taxpayer-funded.”

Councilperson Amber Holle echoed Ractliffe’s concerns about the funding of the event.

“I kind of have to agree,” said Holle. “I’d love to see private donations sought out or the Richardson County Visitor’s Committee- get a grant through them. It’s such a big chunk of change to literally go up in smoke.”

Councilperson Ferguson asked if it would be best to test the waters this year and see how things go and next time, maybe reach out to other entities to ask for funding.

“Maybe we try it once and see how it goes,” said Ferguson.

Both Holle and Ractliffe stated that it should be the complete opposite. According to the two Council persons, not doing the show and planning for it next year, with a budget, seemed the best next step.

At the end of the discussion, a motion was made by Buckminster and seconded by Ferguson to approve the $15,000 show bid by Payup$ucker Promotions. The Council voted 4-2-1-1, with Councilpersons Buckminster, Ferguson, Rhodd and Fouraker voting for it, while Wisdom and Ractliffe were against. Holle abstained from the vote and Leyden was absent.

“The Hot Air Balloon Festival is a community event that takes months of planning and many hours of work put in mostly by volunteers,” said Ractliffe. “It is funded by sponsorships, donations, grants and ticket sales. Fireworks were not part of the plan for this year’s festival, but Mayor Harkendorff requested that they be added at the city’s expense. Those of us on the Council who are involved in planning the festival were actually the ones who advocated for alternative funding solutions for the fireworks. Unfortunately, the majority vote was still in favor of taxpayer funding. I hope the community does not turn its back on the Hot Air Balloon Festival over the Council’s decision.”

Councilperson Fouraker also wanted to clarify any misconceptions about him selling fireworks to the city.

“I had somebody come to me and ask me if the city was going to buy fireworks from me. No, I can’t even sell these fireworks,” said Fouraker. “I sell consumer fireworks; I just coordinate to the people that light them off.”

See entire City Council story in next week’s Falls City Journal.

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