As people were still reveling in the after-glow of another impressive fireworks display, Cody Chamber of Commerce leaders were already looking for help to raise $30,000 for next year’s show.
At the July 9 city council meeting, chamber board president Kenny Lee said the chamber does not have money to pay for fireworks and asked the council to “please help” by taking a lead in funding the 2020 display.
“For us to schedule a show, we have to order months in advance,” Lee said.
Some people travel to Cody specifically to watch the show and statistically people stay longer because of the fireworks, he said.
“We ask you going forward that this is a regular part of the (city) budget because it helps the economy,” Lee said.
In a 5-2 vote, the council committed $1,000 from its contingency fund. Council members Diane Ballard, Justin Baily, Landon Greer, Jerry Fritz and Mayor Matt Hall voted in favor.
Heidi Rasmussen and Glenn Nielson voted against the donation. Because the council recently passed a $666,490 deficit operating budget and they’re concerned about funding capital improvements, the message was clear. The city has no money for fireworks either.
For 22 years the volunteer-run Cody Skylighters bought fireworks and was in charge of setting up, shooting off and cleaning up after the show.
According to the nonprofit’s online page, the group typically raised one-third the cost through raffle sales.
That ended two years ago. Due to a federal law requiring anyone who receives and stores display fireworks to have a permit, the volunteers were faced with a liability issue when their Riverton suppliers changed ownership and the new vender would no longer consider the Skylighters as employees under its permit.
Cities and towns are exempt. Offering a one-time exception, the council in 2017 agreed to place 10 Skylighters on the city’s payroll for one day.
When no plans were made for the 2018 fireworks show, the mayor approached the chamber, asking for last-minute help to coordinate the show and raise funds. The city contributed $5,000 that year.
“I think the understanding was the city should take over a large portion of sponsorship,” Lee said.
Hall praised the chamber for “stepping up” when asked.
“I certainly see the value for supporting this,” he said. “The budget is tight. But I’d like to see this council give something for fireworks.”
The chamber reps suggested the city use its lodging tax money.
Estimated lodging tax revenue for fiscal year 2019-2020 is $126,750. As is the case with the general account, the city lodging tax fund also shows a deficit. The budget effective July 1, predicts $1,394 more in expenses than revenue.
Most money goes to pay regular and overtime wages, payroll taxes and benefits for staff who work during local events. Those include the July Fourth parades and rodeo, Wild West Extravaganza, Christmas parade, Cody Country Car Show, school homecoming parade, Concerts in the Park, downtown Halloween trick or treating and Memorial and Veteran’s day programs.
Noting the city already contributes to Cody’s July Fourth activities, Rasmussen said in 2018 the city spent nearly $45,000 in lodging tax money to assist with three parades and for rodeo security and traffic control.
“I just don’t see how the city can commit to that much when we have a deficit,” she said, adding the trade-off is to reduce services such as law enforcement or perhaps waiting to remove snow from streets until snowfall reaches 4 inches rather than 3.
If the city is to pay for fireworks, constituents need to tell council members what to cut, she said. Or they need to implement another optional 1-cent sales tax.
Baily offered a motion to donate $1,000 from the city contingency fund.
“I know the budget is tight,” he said. “But I do think we can manage that much.”
The city’s $10,000 contingency budget pays for a variety of nonbudgeted requests presented during the year.
Finance officer Leslie Brumage said in past years it has gone toward community requests such as fireworks, senior graduation parties and unexpected repairs at the chamber building. Most recently the council tapped into contingency monies to cover about $6,000 for police overtime associated with the Big Horn Basin Radio’s free Clint Black concert at the rodeo grounds in June.
The city does not have $5,000 to sponsor fireworks, council president Landon Greer said.
“We’ve been hammered by the public with the budget we have,” he added.
He offered to contribute with a personal donation. Other councilors did the same.
The chamber negotiated a contract in January for this year’s fireworks. Half the total is due upon signing, and the balance is due after the show.
Hoebelheinrich said at the time, there was not enough in the fireworks fund for the $15,000 down payment. The chamber ended up taking money from its general fund.
That’s a practice they can’t guarantee given the chamber’s tight budget, she said.
The hope is to negotiate the 2020 contract before year-end to attain a lower price for shells and consequently provide a bigger show at the same cost, she said.
“I do know the city is bleeding,” Hoebelheinrich said. “But I also know we entered into this in good faith.
“We’d hate for it to go away. But we can’t carry this alone.”