Clovis, Curry County to fund fireworks display
June 17, 2020
CLOVIS — Independence Day fireworks, courtesy of your local governments.
With city officials stressing the decision was a one-time deal, the Clovis City Commission voted 6-1 in a Friday special meeting to provide $10,000 in lodgers tax dollars for a 9 p.m. July 4 fireworks display. The show will be fired from what officials hope is a mostly empty Greene Acres Park.
“It is not the Smoke on the Water event we all know and love,” Mayor Mike Morris said in opening the 18 minutes of discussion. “It is a fireworks display the city wants to bring.”
City administration originally intended to propose covering the full $20,000 contract with Western Fireworks, but halved its request after Curry County Manager Lance Pyle issued a Thursday memorandum offering to split the costs. The county’s $10,000, according to the memo, would come half from the commission travel budget and half from Pyle’s county expense account.
Prior to the meeting, Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ernie Kos told The News in non-pandemic years, fundraising from businesses and individuals usually provides around $25,000 to cover the fireworks show. That includes funds for entertainment and miscellaneous items like portable restroom facilities.
A designated sponsor, most recently Rooney Moon Broadcasting and before that Taco Box, would agree to cover any potential funding gaps.
During the pandemic, however, the Curry and Roosevelt county Chambers of Commerce found it off-putting to seek donations for a fireworks show. The Roosevelt chamber canceled its show for that reason, along with an anticipation restrictions on mass gatherings would continue in July.
Jeff McNaughton, better known on Rooney Moon stations as Duffy Moon, told the commission he normally finalizes the contract with Western around the end of April. That’s when numerous businesses were closed due to state public health orders.
“Frankly, a lot of businesses have felt the pain of that,” McNaughton said. “We came to the conclusion, as Mayor Morris alluded to, that fundraising wasn’t really appropriate at that time. We also weren’t comfortable signing a contract that would lock us into a $20,000 fireworks show when we had no idea (what restrictions would remain in place).”
The normal Smoke on the Water show includes a 3:1 ratio of aerial effects that can be seen throughout the city and ground effects primarily for park visitors. This time, McNaughton said, the show will be all aerial fireworks.
While people will be asked to stay out of the park, they will be encouraged to use the parking lots at the Hilltop Center. Red Arrow owner Rocky Bernard, McNaughton said, has agreed to forego one night of drive-in movie business to open up that parking space.
Regarding commission questions of keeping the park clear, officials said there was no real way to keep everybody out of the park, but keeping the park mostly clear and encouraging COVID-19 safe practices felt achievable. City Manager Justin Howalt said he would plan to close streets where the fireworks would be launched and cordon the park with caution tape. Capt. Robert Telles of the Clovis Police Department said there would be officers assigned to the park, but “this is going to be a very small contingency compared with what we’ll normally have out there.”
According to city code, lodgers tax dollars are collected through a 5% tax on hotel and motel bills. From what is collected, 30% goes directly into the city’s general fund and at least 40% is designated for “advertising, publicizing and promoting tourist-related attractions, facilities and events.”
Helen Casaus, who cast the dissenting vote, felt it was hypocritical that commissioners consistently scrutinize Chamber of Commerce requests for lodgers tax dollars and then open the wallet up for fireworks.
“Are we going to do this every year? Is this going to come before us every year? We need to revisit our lodgers tax if this is the case,” Casaus said, noting that many constituents she spoke with were against the expenditure.
Count Danny Jariwala, a Clovis hotel operator and one-time lodgers tax board member, among them. During state-mandated vacancy limits, Jariwala has consistently asked for county and city relief for himself and other small businesses. He’s been told the state antidonation clause makes such requests difficult. He said he appreciated an effort by city staff to waive sewer fees for rooms the state won’t let him rent, and noted savings around $400 or $500 on quarterly billing cycles, but countered he believes Portales’ city council and Chamber of Commerce have done more to get CARES Act relief payments to small businesses affected by the pandemic.
Jariwala noted he has suggested additional relief come from the lodgers tax fund. While he understands the city and county intent to create a night of normalcy for residents, he said using the lodgers tax feels like salt in the wound.
“My concern was we are the very same businesses that contribute to Smoke on the Water,” Jariwala said. “I’m not saying every year, but both of my businesses have done it. Instead of helping the very same businesses and trying to figure out how they could help, they’re willing to contribute the funds for the fireworks display. They (government entities) decided to ignore us and use the very same funds towards an entertainment event. That is ridiculous.”
Commissioner Juan Garza, the commission representative on the lodgers tax board, felt the pandemic created an exception.
“I think the public has been in their houses for so long they need to be doing something a little different,” Garza said before moving for approval. “This is the only time, I think, we can make an exception and do lodgers tax … to do something for the public.”
Commissioner Gary Elliott was absent from the meeting, and did not cast a vote.