City Council Okay With Fireworks Cost Increase

OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Council decided that keeping the big Fourth of July bang was worth the additional bucks.

After a back-and-forth discussion about whether to bid the job on the open market for putting on the 18-minute fireworks displays in Ocean City, the council voted 5-2, with Joe Hall and Margaret Pillas in opposition, to extend the town’s three-year contract with Zambelli Internationale Fireworks company through 2011, despite an extra $7,000 tacked on to the annual fee.

Zambelli Internationale is among the most reputable names in the fireworks business, putting on fireworks all over the country, including the recent New Year’s Eve fireworks display at Times Square in New York City. The town of Ocean City has renewed their contract with Zambellis every three years for the past 12 years, so Tuesday’s decision marks the fourth time that the contract was extended without sending the job out to a Request For Proposal (RFP).

“This is a company that has an incredible track record for handling fireworks. They handle the procedure to the letter, said Special Events Director John Sullivan. “They arrive on schedule and are working at the highest standards and they’ve demonstrated that. We won’t know what we’ll get if we go to bid.”

Sullivan recommended to extend Zambelli’s contract and urged the council not to bid the job out on the open market citing that for obvious safety concerns, the “lowest price in this case is not in the town’s best interests.”

Still, some on the council wanted to get some other price quotes for the annual fireworks displays.

“It’s a competitive market and an RFP could be written to keep in mind safety. If it were renewal at the same price that would be one thing, but it’s been 12 years since we bid it out, and maybe its time to test the market,” said Councilman Joe Hall.

According to a letter from Zambelli Internationale, the price for the July 4th displays will ring in at $62,500, or $31,250 per site. The additional $3,500 charged at the Boardwalk and the Northside Park sites are due to increased shipping costs, a 25-percent price hike on fireworks and the decreasing value of the American dollar.

Almost all fireworks that are used in the United States are purchased from China, and last June, an explosion took out 20 of China’s biggest firework manufacturers and shut down a major port, causing a huge exporting bottleneck and creating a huge shortage of products stateside. Fortunately, Zambelli Internationale was able to keep its price points close and didn’t have to drastically scale back last year’s 4th of July festivities, due to a large back-stock inventory, according to industry reports.

Still, the decision to renew the contract with Zambellis may have been due to the complex process that would come with writing a new bid.

“We can’t write an RFP for this. I was part of the group that did it 12 years ago,” said Councilman Jim Hall, “and the best we could do was come down to the minutes that we wanted because it’s all so complex. But, if it’s a bomb and we pick the wrong guy for the job, then July 4th is ruined.”

Councilwoman Mary Knight thought that Zambelli’s reputation for safety was an even greater selling point and the biggest reason to extend the contract.

“Maybe someone will come in at 3 percent less but Zambelli has the reputation with us, and they haven’t blown off any little children’s legs. This is almost a knee jerk reaction that we haven’t been to bid in 12 years, and we think maybe someone could do it for less, but the safety issue is just way too important to take a chance,” she said.

Jim Hall said that when the town first contracted the New Castle, Pa.-based Zambelli company to do the 4th of July fireworks, the cost came out to about $1,000 per minute. The cost for the next three years fireworks will be about $1,736 per minute for the 18-minute shows in both the uptown and downtown areas.

“I’m a bidder out guy,” said Jim Hall, “But this is a proverbial John Deere tractor with the green tractor and the yellow seat, the black steering wheel and the chrome wheels. We know what this is and this is what we want. Normally I’d bid this out, but these people are very good and this price is very cheap for what we’re getting.”