Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Healdsburg council funds fireworks show, rejects other community groups

LOCATION: Healdsburg
DATE: Monday, April 5, 2010 at 3:00 a.m.
DETAILS: Tight times have led the Healdsburg City Council to suspend the payments it doles out each year to non-profit and community groups with one exception — money for the Fourth of July fireworks show.

"I want to be the last guy on earth responsible for killing fireworks," Councilman Eric Ziedrich said Monday night before he and his colleagues agreed to put up $8,000 toward the fireworks spectacle staged by the American Legion.

"I don't want to be the one who puts the fireworks out," agreed Mayor Jim Wood.

The decision was made at the same time the council majority reaffirmed a 4-1 vote in mid-February to suspend the annual payment program to non-profit groups. The money comes from the Community Benefit Expendable Trust Fund, established in 1998 from the proceeds of the sale of the old City Hall site.

The total annual payments, which have averaged $63,000 the past several years, go to a cross-section of community groups. That has included the animal shelter, Girl Scouts, swim club, Healdsburg Museum, Boys and Girls Club, PTA and performing arts center. The Future Farmers Fair has used the funds for improvements at Recreation Park.

Currently, the fund has a balance of $777,000, but because of the city's shaky budget and continuing deficit in the general fund, the majority of the council decided it was prudent to suspend the payments, and revisit the issue in a year.

Councilman Gary Plass opposed the sudden freeze.

"Cutting it off cold turkey is a shock to the community," he told his colleagues. He advocated allocating $50,000 for the community grant program this year, then having a workshop next year to evaluate the program.

But the only item council members were willing to support financially was the fireworks show. The American Legion, which has put the show on for 23 years, typically gets an $8,000 subsidy from the city toward the staging the event, which now costs $27,000.

The Legion gets other donations to make up the rest of the cost of the show.

Councilman Mike McGuire was the first to suggest Monday that the city continue funding the fireworks show. During tough economic times, he said it's free for families. "It's the best entertainment you can get on the nation's birthday," he said.

Though council members agreed to commit $8,000, they also suggested that if the American Legion can raise all the money for the fireworks, the city would like to keep it. "It could be put to good use for another deserving group," said Councilman Tom Chambers.

The old city hall land, at 126 Matheson St., is now the site of the Oakville grocery, across from the Healdsburg Plaza. The $580,000 from the sale started the fund, but it's been augmented with $200,000 from the general fund and $350,000 from the community redevelopment agency.

Since 1999, the City Council has distributed more than $665,000 from the fund to various community groups and projects. But some Healdsburg residents also believe the fund can do better if the Community Foundation of Sonoma County invests the money for the city.

Richard Burg, who is part of Healdsburg Area Fund, an affiliate of the Community Foundation, told the council the city would still control the allocations to non profit groups. He said the Community Foundation has an average 6.8 percent rate of return, compared to the city's 1.5 to 3 percent a year.


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