The American Revolution started in part as a rebellion against British taxes.
Yet tax money will go up in smoke — usually in half an hour or less — to celebrate our nation's independence on July 4, when Palm Beach County municipalities will spend more than a quarter million dollars on fireworks displays.
Fireworks might seem frivolous when some cities are closing after four-day workweeks, laying off employees and cutting benefits in an attempt to balance their budgets, but spending for pyrotechnic displays celebrating our nation's birthday are fiercely defended by many in Palm Beach County.
— In Greenacres, Mayor Sam Ferreri said the city's Ignite the Night fireworks display, set for the evening of July 4 at Community Park, is the only taxpayer-supported special event left in the budget. The show by Zambelli Fireworks will cost the city $11,200.
"Citizens love this event, even those that watch the fireworks from the privacy of their homes," Ferreri said. "The little investment is well worth it."
— The Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency plans to pay $50,000 to Fireworks by Grucci for an Independence Day show at Intracoastal Park. That's the largest July 4 fireworks budget of a dozen Palm Beach County cities polled.
Boynton Beach CRA Executive Director Vivian Brooks said the waterfront Salute to Independence, featuring live music and a patriotic salute, draws a big crowd into the CRA district and is a "real community event" that brings together people of all ages and backgrounds.
"What makes you love your city? It's things like this," Brooks said.
— Royal Palm Beach Mayor Matty Mattioli said the village can afford the $48,000 it plans to spend for its fireworks show on July 4, even in lean budget times. Village residents will view this year's Star Spangled Spectacular from the new 160-acre Royal Palm Beach Commons Park.
"The attendance we've had has been an overflow crowd," Mattioli said. "In these economic times, I think it gives residents something for free, and they look forward to it."
— North Palm Beach will spend $20,000 for the fireworks display during the village's Red, White and Boom celebration at the country club.
"On the Fourth of July, people do seem to get into it," North Palm Beach Mayor David Norris said. "Everybody enjoys getting together to celebrate the birthday of the country."
Nationwide, despite governmental economic woes, the business of producing fireworks shows is booming.
About $300 million is spent annually on professionally produced fireworks displays for the Fourth of July, according to the American Pyrotechics Association.
Julie Heckman, executive director of the fireworks trade group, said cities didn't cut back on July 4 fireworks spending during lean budget years that followed the housing bust. But she said some cities found corporate sponsors — and private donors — to keep the fireworks exploding on Independence Day.
"It's the one holiday a year when we all come together for the same purpose," Heckman said.
West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio cites another reason for spending taxpayer dollars on fireworks: It's good for business.
"The fireworks show over the Intracoastal Waterway is probably the single most important activity that draws crowds of 100,000 to our waterfront on July 4," Muoio said in an email. "These crowds are economically stimulating to our downtown, with merchants financially benefitting from the crowds before, during and after the Fourth on Flagler."
Still, some Palm Beach County cities will forego fireworks on July 4.
Doug Taylor, president of Zambelli Fireworks, said his company noticed a drop in demand for Independence Day shows in 2008, when he said some city officials were cutting police officers to balance their budgets. Municipal demand for fireworks shows has stabilized since then, he said.
Chris Liberatore, a Florida show producer for Pyrotecnico, has noticed that cities are looking for more bang for their bucks in Fourth of July displays, but said most are continuing with fireworks.
Richard Radcliffe, executive director of the Palm Beach County League of Cities, said that "it would be hard to fault anybody for not having an event. If you're laying people off, it's hard to spend basically a person's salary on fireworks."
In Palm Beach Gardens, the city ran out of open space to shoot fireworks, which used to be launched from open land that is now Downtown at the Gardens, Mayor David Levy said. Instead of fireworks, the city hosts a July 4 pool party at the Burns Road Aquatic Complex.
"We haven't had fireworks for a number of years," Levy said. "They're expensive."
Riviera Beach stopped sponsoring July 4 fireworks shows about eight years ago, partly because the last display caused minor damage to vehicles and forced the city to pay claims, city spokesman William Jiles said.
Budget cuts ended Lake Park's July 4 fireworks shows about three years ago.
Lantana skipped fireworks due to budget cuts
Instead of paying for their own shows, Jupiter and Juno Beach contribute to the Mega Bash show at Roger Dean Stadium. Fourth of July revelers outside the stadium at Abacoa can view the fireworks display without paying admission to go inside.
The Town of Palm Beach contributes $10,000 toward West Palm Beach's Fourth on Flagler fireworks show — a 16-minute, $40,000 display with music that will be fired from a barge in the Intracoastal Waterway, where spectators on both sides of the Lake Worth Lagoon can enjoy it.
"It's the right thing to do," Town Manager Peter Elwell said, referring to the town's contribution to the Fourth on Flagler.
Exploding fireworks to celebrate Independence Day might have more to do with our ancestry than our national anthem, whose lyrics include "the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air."
The American tradition of fireworks probably originates from royal celebrations in countries such as England, France and Russia, said Sean Adams, an associate professor of history at the University of Florida.
"When Americans adopted the practice to celebrate Independence Day, it was likely an inversion of this royal practice to celebrate the foundation of the American Republic and the separation from an aristocratic society," Adams said. "Some scholars refer to this as the ‘democratization' of fireworks."
What a dozen Palm Beach County municipalities plan to spend on July 4 fireworks
- Boynton Beach CRA: $50,000 contract with Fireworks by Grucci.
- Royal Palm Beach: $48,000 contract with Zambelli Fireworks
- West Palm Beach: $40,000 contract with Pyrotecnico of Florida LLC
- Wellington: $30,000 contract with Zambelli Fireworks
- Lantana: $25,000 contract with Zambelli Fireworks
- North Palm Beach: $20,000 contract with Pryo Engineering Co.
- Lake Worth: $15,000 contract with Zambelli Fireworks
- Greenacres: $11,200 contract with Zambelli Fireworks
- Town of Palm Beach: Contributes $10,000 to West Palm Beach's Fourth on Flagler
- Palm Springs: $10,000 contract with East Coast Pyrotechnics
- Jupiter: Contributes $7,500 to show at Roger Dean Stadium
- Juno Beach: Contributes $750 to show at Roger Dean Stadium
Sources: Municipal officials and contracts