Taking SomerBlast out of budget was the right call for Keck

Jeff Neal

Most everyone loves a parade, a good celebration and fireworks in the heat of the summer.

So it's not surprising a number of Pulaski countians were unhappy when Somerset Mayor Alan Keck announced the annual Fourth of July SomerBlast bash was being cut from the budget.

Our family really enjoyed the event. My wife, Tricia, actually pitched the concept of a fireworks show at the water park to then-Mayor Eddie Girdler. And it took off.

So obviously it was near and dear to our hearts.

It's cool to see your kids splash around in the pool with fireworks going off overhead. It's a little piece of Americana.

That being said, SomerBlast was extravagant. The actual show was better than ones we've seen in larger cities, like Lexington and Charleston, S.C. And that means the actual fireworks display was pretty darn expensive.

When Keck threw out that $45,000 price tag, he wasn't just talking about the fireworks, either -- SomerBlast was the biggest day of the year for SomerSplash and all hands were on deck. And the city always maintained a huge police, fire and EMS presence there as well.

What that means is a whole lot of overtime for a whole lot of city employees.

Yes, the water park was full for SomerBlast. But there also were a lot of people "tailgating" in the parking lot who never spent a dime there. They set up lawn chairs and watched the fireworks without entering the park. And that's fine -- fireworks shows can be enjoyed away from the site. Many people would find a spot on North U.S. 27 and watch.

Unfortunately, that doesn't translate to a very positive economic impact for our community.

While events like the SomerNites Cruise and the Master Musicians Festival draw people from far and wide -- people who pack local motels and spend money at local eateries and retail stores -- there was little of that for SomerBlast. Most of the fireworks lovers are from right here, or from neighboring counties. Many of them could watch the show and head home without even going through the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant.

So there was very little income to offset a big cost to the city.

So, for me personally, while the demise of SomerBlast is a little sad, it's also quite understandable. And quite frankly, it didn't surprise me.

When Keck was running for mayor, he made two points abundantly clear:

1. He wanted to infuse new events into what had become a stagnant downtown area.

And, more importantly:

2. He vowed to be a responsible steward with our tax dollars.

We're already seeing some new events in the downtown area. Foodstock featured good food from all over the region and people seemed to enjoy it. There is a second food-themed event set for August.

So $40,000 can be used for several nice events for our citizens -- with a little left over.

I'm sure this was a tough decision for Keck, because so many people did enjoy SomerBlast. But it's hard to justify shooting 45 grand for a single event when you have a city to operate.

At the end of the day, he made the right call for all of us.

JEFF NEAL is the editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.

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