Funding our Fireworks

Fireworks rock. But are they worth the taxpayer dollars?

Last week, Facebook was lighting up with the possibility of Elgin-sponsored fireworks. As proposed, Elgin might partner with Hoffman Estates (and possibly Hanover Park) to put on an Independence Day display at the Sears Center.

We lost our city-sponsored pyrotechnics in 2008, when projections warned of looming budget trouble. At that time, I remember the discussion being framed in terms of necessities vs. nice-to-haves. City officials mused about what citizens would prefer: fireworks or trash pickup. Of course, most rationally chose trash pickup, a “core service.”

I love fireworks. They’re magical, and they inspire awe and wonder.

But we’re broke. Elgin has been refreshingly transparent about just how broke we actually are. We went through a very open, very painful budget process in December that even affected core services. Effective January 1, we’re paying for trash pickup, with $13.25 added to our water bills every month. Older neighborhoods like mine now pay for leaf removal, too. And yet now, barely three months later, we’re looking at spending money on a nice-to-have?

More frustrating is that the news of new spending comes on the heels of January layoffs that eliminated 22 full-time and seven part-time positions. While some of the posts were already vacant, 19 people lost their job to help save $1.8 million.

Granted, partnering with other communities is a step in the right direction. Rather than competing with our neighboring towns, pooling resources can benefit both sides. We just partnered with Hoffman Estates to spend $53,865 on a dog park. (While the dog park will be nice to have, it won’t actually be in Elgin. The money will be spent in Hoffman Estates, instead of in some of our own dilapidated parks.)

There is another way. The Elgin Jaycees are spearheading an effort to fund a fireworks festival privately, through donations, sponsorships and community donations.

Let’s give the Jaycees a shot. If they have the organization and gumption to run this, let them. Rather than spending tax dollars, let’s see if some of our local businesses – say, perhaps the ones getting incentives from the city – might be willing to chip in a bit.

What do you think? How should we pay for fireworks? Or are fireworks even worth paying for? Take the poll below.

The Council will consider the fireworks question at the March 21 Committee of the Whole meeting. I’m eager to hear the discussion.

UPDATE 3/22: At the March 21 meeting, the Council unanimously approved committing $15,000 towards “enhancing” Hoffman Estates’ fireworks display and cooperating on their festival. No cost estimates were given for staff time or potential police time. 

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18 responses to “Funding our Fireworks

  1. Here’s my take on it. I understand that fireworks cost money and essential services (trash, etc.) are more important. Maybe Elgin needs to look at the actual cost of putting on these displays. I could be wrong but I thought I remember the city council quoting costs of over $100,000 for fireworks when they put on the event. Now, I’m not sure if that was purely for fireworks or if it included OT for police, fire & ambulance staff too. In any event, cities in surrounding suburbs put on fireworks that cost much less and they do it on a smaller budget too. If the city wants to offset the costs, perhaps they charge a small fee for people to get in. Arlington Heights has fireworks at Arlington Park on the 4th of July. Granted, live racing is also included but they charge $10 per person. I don’t think Elgin could get away charging that amount of money unless they would turn it into an event with vendors, games, etc.

    I know the budget has been bad and personally I think it’s disgusting they fire or let go of people to make room to balance the budget but still give away bonuses or promotions. The city should freeze all bonuses and raises until the budget is balanced or they are in a surplus. Plenty of other companies are doing it so why should the city be exempt.

    I pay for trash removal in Arlington Heights and we also pay extra a month for our garbage can. It’s only $2/month and not required, but it saves the hassle of having to worry if animals will get in or where to store stinky trash until garbage day. Maybe this is something the city should look to do as well. I also think they should bring back to vehicle registration program. Charge $30 per vehicle. Elgin has just over 100,000 residents and let’s just say there are 50,000 vehicles total registered in the city. The city could be bringing in a potential of $1.5 million per year just in vehicle registration. I bet that would greatly help out the budget.

    I think the city is wrong to be going in a joint dog park effort with Hoffman Estates when the park won’t even be located in Elgin. The city has nothing to gain from this and only headaches from injuries to people or dogs. They should take that money to update some of the older parks in Elgin. That skate park on Willard should have never been built as that place always floods. That money could’ve been well spent on Lords Park, Lords Park Zoo or the Elgin Public Museum instead.

    I say give the Jaycees a chance too but I think if Elgin really gets smart about what they’re spending money on, there are plenty of opportunities to help balance the budget and bring these nice things back to the city.

    Sorry for the long posts and ranting by the way.

  2. Great comments, Mike. A lot remains to be seen and discussed in terms of cost and scope. From the little currently in the news, it sounds like Hoffman Estates is doing a full-on festival/event/carnival for Independence Day, including fireworks, and wants to share the cost with someone. (Similar to the dog park scenario, I think. I wonder if Hoffman would have gone ahead without Elgin on that front, and just let Elginites pay the non-resident fee.)

    I would have preferred to see the dog park funds spent within our own borders (if it has to be spent at all – I think I read that it’s a fund for capital improvements to parks). The parks you mention could all benefit, or one of the many smaller parks throughout the city, where some new playground equipment would be enjoyed by many families.

    The budget hearings brought up the idea of a vehicle sticker – you should have heard the howls! Overall, I think the hearings were important and forced us to start really thinking about our priorities as a city. The work is far from done, though.

  3. The nice to have but not necessary that really troubles me is the fact that the city is spending a half million dollars on a 311 phone system.

  4. I feel that the types of businesses that would contribute to providing a service that is beloved by the community but cannot justifiably be funded by the public are the kinds of businesses Elgin wants and needs. If the city is able to provide an incentive for private sponsors, the city is at least contributing in some form. If businesses believe in the community and contribute, perhaps the community will believe in local business and Elgin can begin to be a little less broke.

  5. I just typed in a really long response and it wouldn’t post for some reason… maybe it was too long.
    I’m happy to see people voting for the Jaycees to bring the Fireworks back. My question is, those that voted, what have you done to help? Have you gone to http://elginfireworks.com and donated? Have you been to one of our committee meetings? Have emailed me about being a sponsor or maybe volunteering?
    I know people want fireworks for Elgin. We’ve had meetings for well over a year. However, without action, there’s no action. The Jaycee Family Fun Fest is for the community by the community. Without community and business involvement, it willnot and cannot happen.

    The City would spend an average of about $30,000 on just fireworks. Then they’d also pay police and fire.
    With the City not providing any in kind services, we would need about $10,000-$15,000 for fireworks, another $20,000-$30,000 for police and fire. Then add all the other costs and you’re talking $60,000 about.
    The City spent about that much just for fireworks, no festival.

    Something to add to the poll should be: Would you pay for parking? Would you pay to get in to the event?

    The thing is, ALL the money for the first festival needs to be raised up front. We plan on making it self sustainable so it can pay for itself going forward, or at least a big amount already there for the following year.

    So if you want the Jaycee event, what are you going to do to make it happen? How are YOU going to help?

    • Excellent comment, Michael – it’s too bad WordPress ate the original version! You raise great points and offer some much-needed information. I found out about the festival just a couple of months ago, but hadn’t heard anything since. I had no idea so much was already underway – it’s great and encouraging to hear. I definitely want to be more involved and will contact you offline.

      I think this is the crux of the entire situation: “The Jaycee Family Fun Fest is for the community by the community. Without community and business involvement, it will not and cannot happen.”

      That’s the community spirit we need. Thanks for spearheading the effort and helping make it happen.

  6. I’ll be at the COTW tonight. Maybe we can meet up and discuss.

  7. The other nice to have but not necessary is the decorations for Christmas. That is done by a private company and costs a lot of money. If we are broke we ought not be spending on Christmas decorations. The part of the budget that we should all really be concerned about is the huge reduction in code inspectors and their support people. The future of our neighborhoods depend on strong code enforcement. Lots of frills should have been cut before a code inspector. We don’t need a map maker or a videographer. Havng the city council meetings taped is nice but not necessary.

    • I didn’t know about the private company Christmas decorations – I assumed that we bought them once and just kept reusing. I do agree that decimating our code department has potentially huge implications. SWAN has worked closely with Code for years to improve our neighborhood – with great results. It’s been a true partnership, but it’s much harder now that each inspector must now cover a much, much larger area with fewer resources.

      • They hire a company to install them. We have worked for 30 years to get strong code enforcement. This is a huge step back for us. There are four inspectors so each one has a fourth of the city. Two inspectors do the apartment licensing.

  8. Pingback: Elgin Fireworks 2012 | Elgin, IL Fireworks

  9. If people want fireworks, let them pay for it, voluntarily. There’s absolutely no sound or ethical reason that we should be taking taxes from struggling families (which were just raised), and using them to pay for fireworks.

    Don’t forget where this money comes from!

  10. Pingback: Building Community through Festivals | The Adventures of Elginista

  11. Dan mentioned the cost of holiday decorations.  I looked up the information from last year’s budget task force. 
    The City budget in 2011 had $41,500 for hanging flower baskets in the downtown, $17,590 for hanging banners
    in the downtown, and $11,600 for downtown “holiday decor”.  That is over $70,000 for totally frivolous purposes. 
    Upon questioning by Craig Mason, Mayor Kaptain defended spending so much money for the hanging flowers. 

    The full list of Riverboat Fund expenditures for 2011 is on the Elgin OCTAVE website.   But these expenditures
    for window dressing in downtown is nothing compared to the $500,000 for a 311 system that we don’t NEED,
    and the Artspace project that cost about $1,000,000.  (City hacks say, Chuck you don’t understand, that $1,000,000 that the City kicked into paying for Artspace came from TIF funds.  To that I say, TIF money came from the tax payers. It is our money, and anyway you cut it, it is a waste of the taxpayer’s money.  And recall, when the Artspace project was first brought up, it wasn’t supposed to cost the City anything!)

    • Thanks for looking those things up. I recently shared a quote on time which basically said to those people that complain they do not have enough time to do what they want to do, you have enough time to do whatever you want, it all depends on your priorities. The city is saying we do not have any money. I say they have a lot of money, it all depends on their priorities. It infuriates me that they decimated the code department before cutting a lot of other frills. Strong code enforcement is the future of our neighborhoods. I guess that is not a priority with our current council. We all need to let staff and council know our thoughts.

  12. I’d like to embed this poll at ElginFireworks.com Could is the embed code still available?

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