For the first July 4 in recent memory, the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air will be strictly a private affair in St. Paul.
Mayor Melvin Carter announced in a Facebook post Wednesday that the capital city will skip fireworks this year, a decision that drew both praise and criticism.
“As I’ve considered the budgetary priorities we manage across our city in the first year of my administration, I’ve decided I can’t in good conscience support spending tax dollars on a fireworks display in St. Paul this year,” Carter wrote in the post.
Fireworks alone cost about $1,000 a minute, according to Liz Xiong, a spokeswoman for the mayor. For the 2014 display on the State Capitol grounds, the city spent $45,000 on fireworks and insurance, she said.
Over the past three years, the city partnered with CHS Field to hold July 4 fireworks — first in tandem with St. Paul Saints games, and then as a city event — but that was intended as a temporary solution, Xiong said.
The estimated cost for this year’s event was about $100,000, Xiong said. In the past, private sponsors helped cover the cost, but those resources aren’t available this year, Carter said at a news conference outside City Hall Wednesday morning.
“The fact of the matter is that we just don’t have $100,000 to spend blowing up rockets over our city,” he said.
Carter is in the midst of crafting his first budget as mayor, and he will submit recommendations to the City Council in August. Last year, the council adopted a $563 million budget that included a property tax levy increase of 24 percent — a bump that city leaders said would be partly offset by a decrease in residents’ street maintenance bills.
Mac-Groveland resident Mike Sonn, who backs Carter’s decision, acknowledged that a $100,000 cut isn’t going to solve the city’s budget problems.
“It’s kind of more symbolic. We have budget priorities; this isn’t one of them,” Sonn said. “I agree with [Carter] on that, that we need to be a lot more fiscally responsible.”
Meanwhile, 12-year St. Paul Public Works employee Craig Johnson was livid at the news Wednesday, and he wasn’t afraid to say so.
Johnson, who grew up on St. Paul’s North End, said he has been going to fireworks shows in St. Paul his whole life — whether they were held at Taste of Minnesota, CHS Field or Harriet Island. In 2011, while still in the hospital after an accident, he said, he rode his wheelchair through downtown to watch fireworks from Shepard Road.
Johnson said the mayor should not have decided to pull the plug on a fireworks show without consulting the City Council.
“I don’t ever remember the city not having fireworks,” he said. “Being an employee of the city, I see the money wasted every day. To say you can’t afford to pay for fireworks on Independence Day is just ridiculous to me.”
Belle Plaine-based RES Specialty Pyrotechnics has historically put on St. Paul’s July 4 fireworks displays. Erv Haman, director of business development, said he received an e-mail from the mayor’s office a couple weeks ago saying the event would not happen this year.
St. Paul Saints officials assumed there wouldn’t be a fireworks show at CHS Field this year because they hadn’t heard anything from the city, said Derek Sharrer, the team’s executive vice president and general manager.
The Saints will be on the road July 4, so CHS Field will be empty that day. But Sharrer said next year, if city officials decide to again forgo fireworks, the Saints may take on the task.
“That’s something that we would definitely consider if the city decides not to bring this event back,” he said.
Staff writer James Walsh contributed to this story.