By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Asking the city for more money to put on the community’s fireworks show nearly blew up in one local non-profit’s face.
CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, has been running Visalia’s only fireworks show for the last two years. On April 1, CASA asked the Visalia City Council to consider increasing its cash donation from $17,500 last year to $25,000 this year and the council nearly voted to offer the event to another non-profit.
Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen, who has opposed funding the fireworks show for the last three years, said he was certainly opposed to increasing it for a third straight year. He reminded those in attendance that the city’s initial letter of interest in 2017 noted $10,000 in cash and $5,000 for in-kind services provided by the City for police patrols, fire inspections and on-site public safety. In 2017, the city also provided a one-time bonus of $10,000 to get the event off the ground. While in-kind services have remained the same, CASA asked for a cash contribution of $17,500 for the event in 2018 and $25,000 to put on the event this year. Nelsen was also irritated that he has asked for a zip code break down of attendance since the non-profit took over the event and he has yet to see one.
“I don’t think the City of Visalia should be in the fireworks business,” Nelsen said. “It’s a disservice that we fund fireworks for show but Visalians may not be attending.”
Nelsen went on to point out that the event would be a total loss of funding if not for the city collecting more than $50,000 in illegal fines. Nelsen said that fact is also a problem since part of the rationale for funding a community fireworks display was reducing the amount of illegal fireworks within the city limits. Last year, the city received twice as many reports of illegal fireworks as 2017. In all, the Visalia Police Department and the Visalia Fire Department issued 87 citations for illegal fireworks, the most ever in the city and more than double the nearest city.
Nelsen motioned to deny CASA’s request for $25,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind donations, which passed 4-1.
When Councilmember Phil Cox asked about the attendance of last year’s event, Assistant City Manager Leslie Caviglia informed the council that no one from CASA was present to answer questions. Councilman Brian Poochigian wanted to know if CASA turned a profit with last year’s budget before voting on a second motion.
“We’re just a few months away. I wish someone from CASA were here,” said Poochigian.
Mayor Bob Link pointed out that CASA knew the item was on the April 1 agenda because interim executive director Alberto Ramos included a letter saying his organization, “would be happy to attend the next City Council meeting to address any questions the council may have regarding our request.”
“They should have been here,” said Link who voted to deny the request.
Councilmember Greg Collins said he wanted to see the fireworks show continue and was prepared to approve the event for the $22,000 that was budgeted, $17,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind donations. He suggested postponing the vote for two weeks to give CASA an opportunity to be at the meeting to present their reasons for needing more money. In 2017, CASA made $8,000 profit but actually lost $2,000 after factoring in the one-time donation of $10,000.
“I agree to the $17,000 but it might not be enough,” Collins said.
Councilmember Cox made a motion to approve CASA for the budgeted $17,000 in cash. The motion narrowly passed 3-2 with Link and Nelsen voting no.