TASK FORCE: CHARGE FOR FIREWORKS VIEW

umbrellaSpectators, like these in Riverside Gardens Park at the 2010 show, would have to pay a ‘nominal’ entry fee to watch the fireworks, a study suggests. (Click to enlarge)

shouldersBy DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Red Bank’s KaBoom fireworks may no longer be free — and as freewheeling — as they’ve been in recent years.

The ad hoc Kaboom! Task Force, formed in September to conduct a top-to-bottom examination of the annual event delivered its final report to the borough council Wednesday night.

The diagnosis: change is needed.

The report focused on two major factors: fundraising and underage drinking/drinking problems/disorderly conduct during the July 4 weekend event.

Because the borough ended its traditional pickup of $60,000 for police and cleanup services this year, Kaboom! vice chairman Charles Moran said the task force is proposing charging for premium views to supplement the committee’s yearly fundraising effort— which goes beyond the summer season, as the committee is still short about $25,000 of the approximate $250,000 to cover the show.

Spectators, the task force suggested, should pay a “nominal fee” to enter Riverside Gardens Park, Marine Park and the stretch of real estate behind the library leading down to Maple Cove. That could bring in somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000, Moran said.

“Fundraising is not enough,” he said, adding that unless a major sponsor swoops in to help underwrite the pyro show, the fee method is the best way to raise the mercury in the fundraising thermometer.

The recommendation appears to reflect a change in perspective. In the past, both Kaboom and borough officials have cited potential legal issues as barriers to imposing access fees at parks that were built using state Green Acres funding, as is the case with Red bank’s two riverfront parks.

Moran said another major concern of the task force was underage drinking and the rising number of alcohol-related incidents in recent years. He said with better planning, Red Bank police can roust more backup from surrounding towns to increase patrols to nab open-can violators and underage drinkers.

“(Police Chief) Steve (McCarthy) said if he had more time he could have rounded up more officers,” Moran said, noting that last year, police were caught off guard when the council pulled the $60,000 overtime line item from the budget. Planning for the fireworks begins well before July, he added.

“That’s why we’re here talking about fireworks a couple days before Christmas,” he said.

At one point, the task force talked about scrapping the show all together for one year, Moran said.

But, he said, “if you let it go for a year it’s going to be that much harder to get back.”

Also considered was scaling the show back to reduce the number of people coming into town. The festival was expanded this year to two days.

“At the end of the day we felt, even if you scale back, people will still come,” he said. “I think even if you canceled people will still come.”

The council will mull the task force’s recommendations through the break between now and the next scheduled regular meeting on January 10, Mayor Pasquale Menna said.

Moran said he thinks that if the council takes the suggestions to heart, next year’s fireworks will be vastly improved from previous years.

“I’m pretty sure they can come back to us by the next meeting,” he said.

In other Kaboom! news, Peter Reinhart has stepped down from his position as chair of the fireworks committee. Moran said he fulfilled the typical term for a chairman, so the committee is now in search of a replacement. Moran assured he is not a candidate.

“I don’t like being here in the public answering to reporters,” he joked.

Here’s the full, one-page report:

REPORT OF THE FIREWORKS TASK FORCE

December 22, 2010

The Kaboom Fireworks Task Force held meetings on September 29 and November 15, 2010. Members present at both meetings included Peter Reinhart, Charles Moran, Lynda Rose, Police Chief Stephen McCarthy, Assistant Borough Administrator Gary Watson, and Nancy Adams. Present at one meeting were former Mayor Michael Arnone, former Mayor Ed McKenna, Councilman Ed Zipprich, Fire Chief Alan Soden, Jay Wolfkind, Danny Murphy, Parks & Recreation Director Memone Crystian, Celestine Stone, and River Center President Tom Fishkin.

The Task Force concluded that the Fireworks should continue as they are an important part of the fabric of Red Bank life and contribute to the town being a special place in which to live, work and enjoy. KaBoom Fireworks are part of what elevates Red Bank above other towns and is a major identifier of the town.

The general consensus of the Task Force is that the revenue model used in the past of relying on donations, sponsorships, and fundraising events is not enough in the current economic environment.  The Task Force is concerned that the KaBoom Fireworks Committee will not be able to raise sufficient funds to cover all expenses incurred in 2011.

Thus the Task Force recommends that the Borough grant permission to the KaBoom Fireworks Committee to charge a modest fee for entrance into Riverside Gardens Park, Marine Park, as well as the area behind the library and on the north side of Maple Avenue Cove. A study to determine the capacity of those areas by T & M Engineering has conservatively estimated the available area to be about 164,000 square feet. This should accommodate at least 15,000 people.  The Task Force recommends the fee be no higher than $10 for adults and that children under a certain age be free. This should raise between $50,000 and $75,000 depending on the amount of the fee and the mix of adults and children attending.  A program to purchase tickets at a discount if purchased before June 15th would protect the committee against a steep loss of revenues due to inclement weather.  Details will be taken up with the Red Bank Special Events Committee.

Unless a major sponsor that could underwrite virtually all of the costs of the fireworks is found, the admission fee model is the best alternative to filling the funding shortfall. The balance needed can then be raised from general donations, business sponsorships, and fundraising events.

The Task Force recognizes the concern that the number of people coming into the Borough, particularly the number of underage people drinking, has grown to the point that it detracts from the positive aspects of the day. The Police Chief is confident that with sufficient assets and increased pre-event planning these issues can be handled satisfactorily.