By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – First it was Red Bank. Then Rumson followed suit. Now Sea Bright officials have decided to cancel the town’s annual fireworks display.
Borough Councilman Marc Leckstein announced plans earlier this week to forego the 2012 edition of the Fourth of July fireworks display.
Leckstein, speaking at Tuesday’s council meeting, said the decision to cancel was based on recommendations from borough Police Chief John Sorrentino.
“It’s not the funding issue,” Leckstein said. “It’s a manpower issue.”
Last month council members and Sorrentino said they would have to do some last-minute brainstorming about this July’s fireworks.
Borough officials were concerned with the decision in February by officials in Red Bank and neighboring Rumson to cancel their respective fireworks.
Red Bank’s annual July 3 Kaboom! Fireworks on the Navesink had become the largest fireworks show in the state, drawing more than 100,000 people to town, causing local police and emergency services to have to reach out to Monmouth County and neighboring communities for additional support and security resources.
The organizers of the Red Bank show decided to abandon their plans this year as each year the cost rose and logistics got more complicated to support the event.
Red Bank’s show generally cost about $300,000 with no taxpayer dollars allocated for support.
Rumson’s fireworks, while smaller, had been done in coordination with Red Bank’s, by the same company. But when Red Bank officials nixed the display, Rumson officials followed suit, saying they feared larger than usual crowds with a further drain on costs and resources.
With those two municipalities out of consideration, Sorrentino had asked for the council’s support for additional manpower as the small shorefront community could become the next go-to spot in the area for those intent on seeing Independence Day fireworks.
“To be honest with you, we don’t know how big it’s going to be,” Sorrentino said last month.
Sorrentino had been reaching out to neighboring communities and to the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, seeking assistance.
Sorrentino was on vacation this week and unavailable for comment, but Leckstein said the chief was not having luck finding departments that could commit officers that night to help Sea Bright.
The sheriff’s, too, had to decline any additional manpower. It is already assigned to assisting Long Branch for its display that night.
Sea Bright has been having a fireworks display since the early 1990s, Sorrentino recalled.
Last year, the borough was operating at “full capacity” with the crowds and traffic the event generated, Sorrentino said last month.
Traditionally, the borough had 12 to 15 officers on duty the night of the fireworks. Emergency services and volunteer firefighters also were available. The council in the past had spent about $12,000 to cover police overtime, public works department employee salaries, portable restrooms and public entertainment.
This year the governing body agreed to increase that amount to about $20,000.
The cost of the actual fireworks, however, was covered by the area beach clubs.
The council also agreed to solicit private donations to help defray costs and to ensure the event’s continued success. The borough already received donations from a beach club and a local marina.
“It wasn’t going to cost the taxpayers a cent,” Leckstein said of this year’s event. But, “obviously, it’s a public safety issue.
“We’re committed to have it happen next year,” he said.
Having additional officers for what could be an exceedingly large event is “critical,” observed Red Bank Police Chief Stephen McCarthy. “Without those additional out-of-town officers we would not be able to fulfill our mission to try and keep everyone safe,” he said.
In Red Bank’s case, it literally tripled its entire force (with 41 officers) for the night of the fireworks, drawing from as many as 12 towns and county law enforcement, NJ Transit and sometimes New Jersey State Police resources, according to McCarthy and Captain Darren McConnell.
“It’s literally months in the planning,” McConnell said.
“I understand their concerns,” McConnell said of Sea Bright. “Without a number of outside agencies helping them – if they draw anywhere near the crowd we draw – they would have significant policing issues.”