By HANNAH JOHNSON – Stillwater Gazette
OAK PARK HEIGHTS – The Oak Park Heights City Council voted 3-2 to contribute $7,000 to the Stillwater Fourth of July fireworks display during its meeting Tuesday night.
Earlier this month, the OPH council began discussions about possibly donating funds to the popular fireworks display.
In the past, Stillwater has paid $40,000 to the Lumberjack Days Festival Association Inc. toward the Fourth of July and Lumberjack Days fireworks displays. However, Stillwater’s contract with the association was recently suspended due to a police investigation into some alleged worthless checks issued by the association.
Since the contract has been up in the air while the Washington County Sheriff’s Office continues its investigation, the city sought its own fireworks vendor for the Fourth of July.
Stillwater sent out five requests for proposals to major fireworks companies. The proposals were due back to the city administrator on Jan. 22 and went on to the city’s Parks Board for a recommendation before it went on to the city council. The proposed contract would not exceed $30,000 compared to $28,000 in the past for the Fourth of July’s show.
Oak Park Heights stepped into the picture to help ensure a strong Fourth of July fireworks display, since many OPH residents attend Stillwater’s show.
"Their (Stillwater’s) relationship with the association is up in the air," said Oak Park Heights City Administrator Eric Johnson. "So you talked about making a contribution."
Mayor David Beaudet, who originally suggested making a contribution to the show, said he would no longer support a contribution to the fireworks display. Since Stillwater’s contract with any vendor would not exceed $30,000, Beaudet said he was not interested in reducing Stillwater’s expenditures.
"I will not support this. They are spending $30,000 but the past displays have not been as robust," Beaudet said. "I wanted to add to the community celebration, not just supplement what’s already going to happen."
A motion to contribute $7,000 to Stillwater for fireworks passed 3-2.
Running out of time
Stillwater City Administrator Larry Hansen recommended the fireworks provider RES Specialty Pyrotechnics out of Belle Plaine to the city council Tuesday night. However, the city will not officially make the award until the police investigation into the association is complete.
"We didn’t make the award last night because we’re still under contract with the (Lumberjack Days) association, but we’re hoping we’ll get the issue resolved," Hansen said.
Hansen said he is hoping the Washington County Attorney’s Office will determine if any charges will be filed against the association by the city council’s next meeting on Feb. 21.
Once the county attorney makes a decision regarding the case then all of the information will be public, which would allow the city council to have a full discussion about the city’s contract with the association, Hansen said.
If the county attorney’s office has not made a decision by Feb. 21 then Hansen will ask the city council to make a decision regarding the city’s contract with the association based on the current public information on the case, he said.
He added that most fireworks companies usually line up their Fourth of July contracts in February. If the council wants to ensure fireworks for the Fourth of July it will need to make a decision soon.
"Stillwater has always had a really good fireworks display," Hansen said. "Put us against Minneapolis or St. Paul, or anyone, and we have a really good program."