The battle over fireworks booths in Livingston has begun.
The city is accepting applications from nonprofits interested in selling safe-and-sane fireworks in July, officials announced at a City Council meeting Tuesday. Although the application period just opened, two groups – the Fourth of July Committee and Livingston Youth Football – were already appealing to the council Tuesday to choose them.
Volunteers from both organizations say selling fireworks is one of their biggest fundraisers each year.
The Livingston Fourth of July Committee came up short by $4,500 last year after growing its annual fireworks show and festival. Having a booth to sell fireworks would have helped make up the difference, said chairman Julio Valadez.
But with only five nonprofits selected to operate fireworks stands in the city, the groups are competing with one another. Instead of allowing the groups to compete in a random lottery, the City Council last year changed the selection process to allow themselves to hand-pick two organizations. The rest would be placed in a lottery.
The two “discretionary” picks will be chosen by the council after groups submit letters explaining why they are the best choice for those two spots.
The decision to change the process came as two members of the council – Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza and Councilman Jim Soria – pushed to have Livingston Youth Football get a booth. Soria, who publicly announced he’s a coach for the group and has children in the program, recused himself from the conversation Tuesday. Soria was involved in early council discussions last year.
“I don’t want to give the impression of favoritism,” Soria said before exiting the council chambers Tuesday.
Last year, Livingston Youth Football was chosen as a discretionary pick in a 2-1 council vote. Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra cast the dissenting vote, saying the council is shooting itself in the foot by picking nonprofits. He said a random drawing is the most unbiased and fair method.
Four nonprofits were awarded booths last year through the lottery process: Livingston Wrestling, Livingston-Delhi Veterans of Foreign Wars, Livingston High School Quarterback Club and St. Jude Knights of Columbus.
According to the city’s ordinance, those groups will not be allowed to compete in the lottery again for another year. They can, however, apply for one of the two “discretionary” picks. “The fear was that the same groups would get it again and again,” City Attorney Jose Sanchez said. “The one-year ban got placed in there because of that.”
But a fireworks official, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said banning the four nonprofits from the lottery isn’t a good move. Only seven groups applied for permits last year and the city would automatically be shutting four of them out, said Don Pascarella, area manager for TNT Fireworks in Modesto.
Pascarella, who’s been in the pyrotechnics business for 25 years, offered to help the city revise its ordinance.
The city hasn’t received any applications for fireworks permits thus far, said Recreation Superintendent Jacquelyn Benoit. Applications can be picked up at City Hall and the deadline is March 2. Winners will be selected March 17.
In other business Tuesday, the council received an update on an optimistic midyear budget. After nine years of continuous general fund operating deficits, the city has a surplus of more than half a million dollars. Interim City Manager Odi Ortiz thanked employee unions for taking concessions that helped cut costs.
Ortiz recommended adjustments to the budget projections that were adopted in August. The general fund revenues are up by $400,000 because of an increase in construction fees and property tax revenues. Expenditures have decreased by $7,300 because of freezing vacant positions and employee concessions.
But hanging over the city’s head is a $700,000 repayment to the state related to the dissolved Redevelopment Agency and increases in contributions to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @RamonaGiwargis.