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Sparks fly in St. Helens fireworks discussion

City Council considers whether it should investment in a fireworks display for Fourth of July holiday

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Event planner Tina Curry talks to the St. Helens City Council on Wednesday, Jan. 20. Curry has been volunteering to help organize Fourth of July activities and spoke with councilors about possible funding on Wednesday.While the Fourth of July may be six months down the road, the St. Helens City Council is already trying to figure out who, if anyone, will be able to pay for a fireworks display this year.

During a St. Helens City Council work session Wednesday, Jan. 20, discussions between board members and event planner, Tina Curry, ranged from the cost of obtaining permits for fireworks and the willingness of businesses to donate funding, to the public’s perception of how necessary a fireworks display is on the holiday.

In late 2015, Robert Salisbury, president of the St. Helens Community Foundation, spoke to the City Council, asking for a sponsorship from the city to pay for the fireworks display this year. The Community Foundation has contributed funding for the display in years past, but doesn’t have the money to do so now.

City Administrator John Walsh said he and Curry discussed directing money towards more lasting projects, such as a small, permanent stage in Columbia View Park. Curry said the structure would be a useful investment for other events like Spirit of Halloweentown and the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, occasions the city contracted her to organize in 2015.

“Tina and I’s conversation about fireworks and the stage are interrelated as competing use for the same resources. So, tourism dollars potentially could either be blown up in the sky or put into the stage,” Walsh said.

Councilor Keith Locke said a stage in that park is part of the parks master plan. Council Chair Doug Morten suggested that the parks committee review designs for a stage and determine if it would be the best investment for the park before the City Council made any decisions.

“So we’re at this crossroads of whether or not you want to fund the Fourth of July, basically. And it comes down to a cost of $20,000 to include fireworks and include Fourth of July or $5,000 range for just having activities during the Fourth,” Curry said.

One St. Helens resident, Steve Topaz, said he believes a Fourth of July celebration can only be successful if the whole town gets involved. Topaz also explained the costly and time-consuming process of organizing a fireworks shows.

Topaz argued fireworks are a city tradition, a show of patriotism, and are an important component for the holiday.

“Well, I never have equated fireworks to being patriotic. There’s a lot of other kinds of issues about being patriotic other than fireworks,” Morten said immediately following Topaz’s comments.

During the City Council’s meeting Wednesday night, heated discussion between Topaz and Morten erupted, hinged on Morten’s comment. Topaz called Morten “one of the good old boys,” implying that Morten’s opinions influence decisions that must be followed whether or not others agree with him.

Mayor Randy Peterson halted the argument and moved the meeting forward.

Discussions about fireworks funding is expected to resume at the City Council’s Feb. 17 meeting.