Independence Day Party Could Blow Up
Monterey’s money woes might mean resistance to corporate sponsorship will fade.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
Faced with the challenge of cutting at least $2 million from its budget for 2005-2006, as well as the loss of a recreation superintendent to retirement, the Monterey City Council will be casting a critical eye toward one of its traditionally large annual expenses: the quarter-million-dollar Fourth of July party.
Recreation superintendent Jeanne Calzada, who retires shortly after this year’s July 4 party, has planned the Independence Day event since it was re-instated in 1988. She estimates that coordinating the parade, lawn party and fireworks for one day in July consumes 20 percent of her efforts.
“It takes a tremendous amount of time,” she says.
Although the cost of the 2005 party is already budgeted, Calzada is not scheduled to be replaced under a staff reduction program, and the city has to find a staffer to assume her duties if it still wants the party. At its July 6 meeting, the city council will have a public hearing on its 2004-05 budget.
“Next year we’re in a bit of a conundrum,” says Fred Cohn, deputy city manager. “Do we continue or do we starting paring back or changing priorities?”
And when that is done, the city gets down to drawing up its 2005-2006 budget—which already contains a projected $2 million hole in the general fund—and the cost of throwing the July 4th party will be on the table.
(The city’s 2003-04 total operating budget is about $71 million. The general fund budget is about $45 million, of which about $13 million is funded by visitor-driven hotel taxes.)
As it is now, the city breaks down expenses for the party into hard and soft costs. The total bill comes out to $258,000 for this year’s party; those are the hard costs. Soft costs come from staff time spent on the event.
Although there is no firm estimate for the number of people who pour into the city, downtown and the entire waterfront from Cannery Row to Del Monte Beach is packed with tens of thousands of people. So many people cross Del Monte Avenue to get to the beach, the road is closed. Almost the entire police department is mobilized and additional officers are brought in from other jurisdictions, paid by the city of Monterey. Extra staffing—from the fire department, public works, recreation staff and other city employees—is also needed for the holiday.
Cohn says Independence Day means people will be coming to Monterey, no matter if the city scales back its commitment or abandons the event altogether. “There would still be expenses if we sponsored nothing,” he says.
In past years, the city has had help paying for the festivities from outside sources. But lately Monterey has paid the whole bill with public money. As Cohn says, the fiscal malaise in California applies not only to municipal budgets but also private entities such as local businesses that might have participated in the past. “Times are tough for everybody,” he says.
Mayor Dan Albert says he unequivocally supports the Fourth of July festivities but recognizes that the cost concerns are real. With the 2005-06 budget projected to show a $2 million deficit, city staff was directed to create a report that would offer several solutions. Their report was delivered at the June 1 council meeting.
“If it’s going to happen, the staff will come up with some options,” Albert says. “It’s something that the people really like in the city. They really enjoy the parade and the celebration and the lawn party. I hear it and see it because I’m there.”
While he remains enthusiastic about the party and says fellow citizens tell him how much they love it, the mayor has heard the criticism.
“To be frank, there are some people who express concern about the expense,” he says.
Monterey will be looking around for help from an array of sources again, but the local business associations are not eager to step up.
Brenda Roncarati, president and CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, says tight budgets will probably keep the Chamber from chipping in.
“We view it as one of those events that does an excellent job of promoting the community,” she says. “Peninsula-wide, this is an event that gets promotion from every community. The Monterey fireworks are something that’s a benefit for everyone.”
Roncarati has served as the head of the Peninsula Chamber since August. Prior to that she held a similar position in Carmel. She says that the Monterey fireworks help attract tourists to Carmel as they do to other communities in the area.
But as far as pitching in to help the city, the Peninsula Chamber probably will not help. It does not receive any government funding and runs on a budget of about $500,000, all of which comes from member dues and fundraising events.
Roncarati says she worked for the city of Monterey for 15 years and knows what a huge undertaking it is to stage the Fourth of July events. The Chamber represents 1,000 businesses between Big Sur and Marina but when it comes to chipping in for Monterey, she says, “I don’t think so, just because we don’t have the funding for something like that. Everything goes through to promote member businesses.”
The same goes for the Old Monterey Business Association (OMBA).
“The parade and barbecue are truly local events and that’s something we obviously support because we’re members of the community,” says Rick Johnson, executive director of the OMBA. “The fireworks are probably more regional and it would be my great wish that other cities in the region step up because their residents benefit greatly from them.”
The OMBA represents 470 businesses in the 26-block area of downtown Monterey. Its members include everyone from boutiques to attorneys’ offices.
“As far as funding [part of the event], the way budgets are, I don’t see that. But it’s also not been proposed,” Johnson says.
Cohn says that a spectrum of choices exist. The city could just keep on paying for the event; eliminate it all together; or do something in the middle, such as cancel the parade but keep the fireworks.
One option will be to allow corporate sponsorship of the Fourth of July party, raising the specter of an event named after a lawnmower or piece of software.
“Historically the city council has not been interested in selling naming rights,” says Cohn. “I believe they may be reviewing that policy in the coming year.”