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City steps in to save university fireworks event
city council fireworks
The Turlock City Council voted to increase the Citys sponsorship amount for the annual fireworks show held at Stanislaus State to insure the community holiday event could continue. - photo by Photo Contributed

The fate of the annual Fourth of July fireworks show at Stanislaus State was up in the air this year, as the university was struggling with funding the community event in the midst of statewide budget cuts.  The Turlock City Council guaranteed the patriotic event will go on, however, when they voted 3-1 (with Council member Gil Esquer dissenting and Matthew Jacob absent) on Tuesday to commit $22,500 of City funds to pay for the fireworks.

As the host, Stanislaus State has taken on the majority of expenses in the previous years for the event that draws over 15,000 people to the Turlock campus for a free fireworks show. Last year, the university spent $55,000 for the fireworks event, with community, business and city sponsorships contributing $23,950.

This year, however, the university just couldn’t find the funds to support the fireworks show.

“I am going to have to cut $1.325 million from our campus next year…With that in mind, I thought I simply could not go forward with funding the fireworks,” said Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn to the City Council on Tuesday.

“I would love to continue to do it, because so many people were so happy to see the fireworks come back and we have such a strong partnership with the city and we want to continue to grow that relationship,” said Junn.

While Council member Amy Bublak and Mayor Gary Soiseth acknowledged the City’s own budget woes, they both supported funding the event.

“As much as I am a miser with money…the fund that it’s coming from is for marketing and we hardly market Turlock now since the demise of our partnership with the Chamber, we just stopped marketing. So, I think this is an obvious way to market and (people) do come from all over,” said Bublak.

Others were not supportive of the City Council allocating funds to pay for the fireworks show.

“The public does not understand how serious things are…we sit through these hearings, the budget hearings and this hearing, it’s serious, very serious. I think you should cancel the event and I think you should make a very, very big deal about it. There has to be some pain; if things go on as usual, how can you convince the public out there?” said former mayor and current mayoral candidate Brad Bates.

The fireworks show has been cancelled in the past due to economic hardship. After running the celebration for 24 years, the university announced in 2009 that it would no longer be able to host the annual fireworks show due to lack of funding and sponsors.

The Turlock Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds for a couple of years to see the fireworks show continue, following the university’s decision to bow out.

Former Stanislaus State President Joseph Sheley reinstituted the longstanding fireworks show at the campus in 2015 after a five-year hiatus.

Last year’s event not only welcomed thousands to the university’s grounds for the free fireworks show, but also included live entertainment and activities for kids.

Even with the City’s funding — and up to $15,000 the university will contribute — this year’s event will be “very bare bones” compared to last year’s “grand fanfare,” said President Junn.

“It is also incumbent on us as a community to fundraise. If we do bring in those donations we can add some of those elements,” said Soiseth.

The City of Turlock had already committed $5,000 for this year’s Fourth of July fireworks at the university as part of a co-sponsorship for the event. In addition to the sponsorship funds, the City also dedicated resources such as traffic control to support the event. The $5,000, and the additional $17,500 the Council approved funding on Tuesday, will come from money the City receives from the Transient Occupancy Tax — the tax people pay to stay in Turlock hotels.

The Council also agreed to allocate up to $13,500 more for the event if community sponsorships do not materialize.