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Fireworks fraud?

Greenfield launches inquiry after questions raised about show quality

  • Fireworks are prepared before the show at Poet’s Seat Tower in this file photo.<br/>Recorder file photo

GREENFIELD — It appears that the town may not have been getting the biggest bang for its buck, at least for the past couple of years, when it comes to its annual Fourth of July fireworks display.

At least that’s what Mayor William Martin thinks may be the case, and he said Wednesday that the town is currently investigating whether Atlas PyroVision Productions Inc. of New Hampshire, which has provided fireworks for Greenfield’s Fourth of July celebration for at least the past seven years, has misrepresented what and how much it was providing to the town.

“We’ve sent our contract and documentation to the town’s attorney for review,” said Martin. “We’ll wait to hear what our next step should be.”

Martin said the town will withhold payment for this year’s display until it knows what has happened. The town paid a $2,500 deposit for an $11,500 display by Atlas this year.

“It appears Atlas has not lived up to its contract,” said Martin, who said town officials believe Greenfield hasn’t been getting as many “shells” — as the gunpowder- and chemical-filled projectiles fired from mortars during a display are called — as it has been purchasing.

Stephen Pelkey, chief executive officer of Atlas, agreed Wednesday that there was a difference between what the town was promised this year and what it got.

“Over the years, we’ve had subtle changes happen from time to time,” said Pelkey. “That happens, but sometimes it’s because we’ve provided less shells of higher quality. The town gets equal or greater value.”

Pelkey said Atlas is taking responsibility for the mistake this year, because there was an error and the town received fewer shells than it was supposed to.

“We’ve offered the town an 80 percent discount,” he said. “That means we’ll owe the town $300 of the deposit it made of $2,500. We acknowledge it was our mistake in the packaging.”

If the town decides to accept Atlas’ offer, the entire fireworks display this year will cost the town $2,200, which means the town would save almost $10,000 and would be able to put the money toward next year’s display.

Martin said that typically, when looking for bids for a display, the town tells fireworks companies that it wants to spend a certain amount of money and the companies bid on how much they can provide for that amount.

“Atlas has been winning the contract each year, because it claimed it could give the most for the money,” said Martin. But, in retrospect, “we should have been more diligent about counting shells over the past several years,” said Martin.

Recreation Department Director Christy Moore says she agrees, but explained that because Greenfield’s fireworks display has been hailed as one of the best in the area, the town didn’t believe it had anything to be suspicious of.

“We were doing some housekeeping this year when we found a discrepancy,” said Moore. “We hadn’t done a shell count in the seven years I’ve been here — and it blew up in our face.”

Even though it doesn’t affect Greenfield taxpayers if the town finds out it has been duped for several years — since the show is paid for by donations — it would have affected those who have anted up money for the display.

Moore said her department raises about $18,000 a year for the fireworks display and celebration on Beacon Field.

“I want people to know that we are doing everything we can to resolve this,” she said. “We don’t want their kindness and generosity to be tarnished.”

Town Finance Director Marjorie Lane Kelly said if nothing else, the town will be a lot more careful from this point forward.

William Weimer of the B.J. Alan Co. (Phantom Fireworks) said, without knowing which company Greenfield has a contract with, that towns and others should always count the number of shells to be used — before the display begins — to make sure they are getting what they paid for in a contract.

Weimer said there are racks that hold six to 12 mortar tubes or more and one shell goes into each tube. He said multi-shot repeaters hold a series of tubs, which also hold one shell each.

He said fireworks companies must also keep “very strict” and detailed records for the federal government.

Weimer said professional fireworks companies are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, so it should be relatively easy for the town to obtain current and past records to see if they match what Greenfield thought it was getting

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