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Mayor waits to hear from fireworks company about deal

GREENFIELD — It appears the mayor may be ready to make a deal with the New Hampshire company that sold Greenfield short on the fireworks it bought for its Fourth of July celebration this year.

Mayor William Martin said he is waiting to hear from the owner of Atlas Advanced Pyrotechnics Inc. of Jaffrey, N.H., before he decides what the town’s next move will be. He said it could be that Atlas will offer a deal that will satisfy the town.

Martin said the town believes Atlas has short-changed the town for the past two, and maybe up to the last four or more, years.

The town has paid between $9,500 and $11,000 over the past four years for its Fourth of July fireworks display from Poet’s Seat Tower at Beacon Field.

Martin said Stephen Pelkey, owner of Atlas, has agreed that there was a “mistake” made by the company this year, but said he has not admitted any deliberate wrongdoing.

Pelkey said after Greenfield’s celebration on July 5 that Atlas had made a mistake and accidentally shorted the town this year. At that time, he offered the town an 80 percent discount on the price of this year’s show. If the town had accepted, it would have cost $2,200 instead of $11,000.

But, Martin said “no” to that offer because he wanted to see what the town’s lawyer had to say.

Martin said he would not go into the details of what the town has found and whether it has been short-changed for more than one year by Atlas, because he wants to wait until he hears from Pelkey on Monday or Tuesday.

Martin and others said they had been satisfied with the show Atlas put on for many years, but this year it seemed shorter and not as good.

Greenfield officials found the discrepancy after people started complaining about this year’s show, though technicians say the problems were more technical than anything.

As officials began to talk among themselves after this year’s show, they decided to compare the town’s 2014 contract with Atlas to the packing slip the company provided when the fireworks arrived. The fire department must sign off on the packing slip before issuing a permit each year but did not have a copy of the contract, which spells out in some detail what the town purchased.

Town officials found that Greenfield had received 688 shells fewer than it contracted, according to Martin.

“That prompted further investigation,” said Martin.

What the town found was that between 2011 and 2014, it appears Greenfield has been shorted about 600 shells each year.

Pelkey has not been able to be reached by phone for comment for more than a week.

In an interview with him after the town first made the accusation that it had been shorted, Pelkey said it was not deliberate, but an oversight.

Martin said the investigation will be ongoing as more paperwork is found and town officials begin to take a closer look as far back as 2007.

The mayor said even after he speaks with Pelkey next week, the town will have to look back as far as it can to make sure this hasn’t been happening for years. Atlas has provided the town with its July 4 displays for two decades.

“We need to regain our equilibrium,” said Martin. “I am also accepting that I am absolutely accountable for this and I expect others will need to be, also.”

Martin would not explain what he meant, so it isn’t clear if he is talking about Atlas or town employees.

Recreation Director Christy Moore said the town hasn’t checked its contract against the company’s bill of lading since she began as director seven years ago.

Martin said that will change.

“We are going to put checks and balances in place,” said Martin. “We are going to design a way to ensure this will not happen again.”

Martin said he will be working on new policies and procedures and will involve other town employees.

Moore has been signing the contract with Atlas, while the Fire Department has compared the bill of lading to the shipment received on the night of the show. The Fire Department has never seen the contract so it would never have found a discrepancy if the bill of lading and shipment matched.

“I and other town employees have to make sure we always protect town assets,” said Martin.

He said even though the annual fireworks display is not paid for by taxpayers, but by donations and contributions, many who contribute are Greenfield’s taxpayers.

Moore said the Recreation Department and volunteers raise $18,000 each year for the display, police and fire patrols and other activities on Beacon Field the day of the celebration.

Other towns

Greenfield isn’t the only town that called Atlas out this year.

The City of Ansonia, Conn., complained this past week that Atlas staged a less-than-stellar fireworks show during its Summerfest celebration in late July.

According to reports out of Connecticut, Pelkey acknowledged that the display was nothing near the caliber his business normally provides and that it was disappointing.

Also according to those reports, which were published in The New Haven Register, Pelkey said the display was designed to be fired from three locations and when the technician arrived, he felt the area was too restrictive for the types of devices planned.

The fireworks cost the city $5,500 but city officials have stopped payment of $3,000 to Atlas, according to the reports.

It appears Pelkey has told Ansonia he does not plan to charge the city for this year’s display.

Two other towns, South Hadley and South Kingstown in Rhode Island, also complained to Atlas about their fireworks displays this year. Like Greenfield, South Hadley said it appears it was shorted.

It is not yet clear what has happened in South Kingstown, but South Hadley has settled with Atlas and the town administrator there said he does not believe there were problems in the past, because the town has always compared its contract to the bill of lading.

Counting shells

According to fireworks experts, it can be difficult to count shells if you don’t understand what you are counting.

While a contract may promise a certain number of 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-inch shells, fireworks companies sometimes swap shells out for others of equal or lesser value, depending on what is shipped to them, mostly from China, according to experts.

Greenfield’s contracts have provided Atlas the ability to swap shells for at least the past four years.

Sometimes, fireworks companies provide “cakes,” which are multi-shot repeaters or small boxes of tubes preloaded with shells that go off one after the other or simultaneously until they are done.

Some believe those should not be counted as shells, but many companies count them.

Experts said it can also be difficult to match contracts with the bill of lading, because codes are used on the latter, while contracts typically list the number of shells by size.

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