Livingston cancels July 4th festivities

LIVINGSTON — Scratch the Fourth of July in Livingston.

Blame the state of the city's finances.

News of the cancelation of the city's annual festivities surprised residents at the City Council meeting Tuesday when City Manager Richard Warne confirmed rumors.

Warne said city staff made the decision to discontinue the tradition of fireworks and other festivities as a part of its budgeting process. The city spends about $25,000 a year on the festival, about $15,000 of which was dedicated to a fireworks show.

The city is expecting to pay $75,000 to $100,000 for a special election to recall Mayor Daniel Varela and Councilwoman Martha Nateras for their roles in voting for increased water rates in the city. Warne said Wednesday, however, that given the state of the city's expenses, even if it didn't have to pay for the recall, the Fourth of July festival would have been canceled.

Livingston Planning Commissioner Luis Flores, pres- ent during the announcement, said, "It's such a positive event, it's really disheartening."

Nateras said, "It's too bad that we had to come to this, but we have to cut somewhere. The figures don't lie. We are in the negative."

City staff members said the Livingston water and sewer services are draining its general fund — the fund that pays for general city services such as police and fire — because the city isn't charging enough for what it costs to provide the water and sewer services to the residents.

The city's 1995 water rates remained in effect until 2009 when a majority of the council voted for a multiyear increase that will raise the rates more than 100 percent.

The issue has divided the community and spurred the recall effort.

Nateras pointed out she and other council members inherited the problem and are trying to do what they think is best to fix the city's money problems. Opponents blame legal expenses spent defending the city against lawsuits to halt its water increases. A few residents asked Nateras and Varela to step down Tuesday night and spare the city the expense of a recall election.

"I am not a quitter," Nateras said Wednesday. "I don't think the community really cares about the financial situation we are in."

The Fourth of July — now, that's another issue altogether.