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Groups pan fireworks tax

Councilwoman’s proposal to use 20% of fireworks sales for July Fourth enforcement is unfair, they believe.

March 14, 2009|By Alan Blank

Representatives of several youth organizations have said that Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Leece’s proposal to tax their proceeds from Fourth of July fireworks sales to pay for heightened enforcement and education measures around the city would take away much-needed funding.

An additional tax on top of all the time and effort it takes to run a booth may cause some to reconsider whether they want to operate fireworks stands to raise money for sports equipment, academic supplies and team trips.

“Getting the manpower and people in place to manage this thing — it’s a big time commitment, and for the payoff it’s not a ton of money,” said Donna Barnhard-Swift, the president of the California School Education Foundation, which made $5,000 last year sharing a booth with TeWinkle Middle School.

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The average TNT fireworks stand in Costa Mesa sells about $30,000 worth of fireworks in the days approaching the Fourth of July, according to John Kelly, a local spokesman for the company.

TNT provides the fireworks and facilities for 26 of the 32 fireworks stands in parking lots around the city.

However, the booths are operated by nonprofit youth sports organizations and schools, which generally only keep about 30% of the revenue or roughly $9,000 each.

Costa Mesa does not require financial disclosure from either the fireworks companies or the nonprofits that run them, so official data are not readily available.

A proposal presented by Leece Tuesday would tax the organizations that run stands in order to pay for the estimated $29,000 in extra police and fire patrols and other enhanced services related to the holiday.

Leece has said she wants to decrease and eventually eliminate fireworks from the city in favor of other fundraising alternatives because they are potentially dangerous and a nuisance to some residents.

“Those people who want the stands to continue in Costa Mesa need to pay a minimal percentage for the public services, police and fire,” Leece said.

In the staff report accompanying Leece’s proposal, a 20% tax is cited as an example, but Leece later said that it probably wouldn’t have to be that high in order to cover the city’s costs.

She mentioned as another possibility a flat fee of $1,000 per booth.

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