The Athens Downtown Development Authority’s inexperience at estimating costs for a fireworks show—a type of event it had never put on before—led to a ballooning budget that will top $80,000. (Click here for a rundown on Fourth of July activities.) Commissioner Jared Bailey was the lone commissioner to vote against spending $9,000 from a tourism fund to bail out the fireworks show at a June 21 meeting, arguing that it’s outside the scope of the ADDA’s mission. Other commissioners said many constituents have urged them to make sure the event goes on.
The three things people have gotten most worked up about in my more than a decade covering Athens have been: feral cats, the downtown Walmart and then-mayor Heidi Davison cutting funding for the Bishop Park fireworks.
Since then, corporate sponsors have sporadically stepped up to fund fireworks in some years; others not. Georgia Square Mall put on the show the past two years, but opted not to this year, leaving the ADDA scrambling to make sure the city did something to commemorate Independence Day. The bottom line is, this event is so popular that it really ought to be part of the local government’s budget year in and year out. It doesn’t necessarily have to be downtown, either—commissioners Andy Herod and Sharyn Dickerson have floated alternating the show between Bishop and Southeast Clarke parks, which sounds like a fine idea to me.
The move to cut fireworks came in the midst of the recession in 2008, when anything that wasn’t a necessity met the chopping block. The economy is much better today, and there’s plenty of room in the county budget to make Fourth of July fireworks a line item. When asked why she didn’t fund fireworks in the ACC budget this year, Denson replied, “Once something’s out, it’s hard to put it back in.” That may be so, but this is something people want, and ACC should simply fund it to make sure it happens smoothly every year.
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