Officially, a computer malfunction caused 15 minutes of fireworks to go off in less than 30 seconds at the 2012 Big Bay Boom, said Garden State Fireworks.
To make up for the pyrotechnic bust heard round the world, Garden State has agreed to donate $125,000 in free fireworks to double the size of next year's show, said Executive Producer Sandy Purdon.
Whether the Big Bay Boom returns to paint Imperial Beach with neon glow in 2013 is still a mystery.
Councilman Ed Spriggs said he wants to see fireworks stay in IB, particularly for the opening of the new Pier South hotel, but like other members of the City Council, he wants to see others like the hotel owners and the Port of San Diego step up to pay more of the bill.
"I think if we say we're willing to put some money on the table, way less than ever before, then we'll see who's willing to stand up and join us. If they don't by the 8th of January then we're not in. We're not going to have it," Spriggs said.
The Imperial Beach City Council cut the roughly $30,000 needed to cover public safety costs for the event from their 2012-13 budget in June. At that time the city said it may seek ways to pay for the event beyond its general fund, but no fundraising ever took place.
At a City Council meeting last week, spending money on the Big Bay Boom was again up for consideration but no official financial commitment was made.
Purdon said he needs an answer from the city by Jan. 8, the day he will appear before the Board of Port Commissioners to discuss how much the port is willing to give to the fireworks show.
A major sponsor of the event, the Port of San Diego, paid for more than half of the total cost of the Big Bay Boom in IB in 2012.
Another City Council meeting will not be held until Jan. 23.
When asked if IB could still get fireworks if no commitment was made by Jan. 8, Purdon said, "I would have to negotiate that with my fireworks and other contractors. I could probably still work things out if there was some indication that IB City Council was interested in supporting this event even if the final decision came later."
The money for free fireworks breaks down to $25,000 for each of the five fireworks spots. Purdon said he may consider using part of that money to offset funding shortfalls, but that would not reduce the $25-35,000 it will cost to pay for public safety.
Concerned with future budget troubles, city officials spent part of the meeting talking about whether IB can come up with $5-10,000. The city's elected officials agreed to have Mayor Jim Janney and City Manager Gary Brown meet with Purdon again to see if fireworks are still possible if the city commits up to $10,000.
"I can't see in our present budget situation, which is really a lot more deeper than we've come to realize because we haven't got to that point in our budgeting cycles, I can't see supporting this at this moment in time."
"Like a lot of families, the city is having financial troubles and needs to tighten its belts," said Councilman Brian Bilbray, calling the fireworks show a "luxury" the city cannot afford at this time.
Some City Councilmembers suggested that more money should be sought from other stakeholders who put money in to pay for local fireworks in the past, including the Port of San Diego and Pacifica Companies, owner of Pier South, the new hotel scheduled to open in the first half of 2013.
The city should be the first to step forward and put money on the table, Spriggs said.
"But you know, when you're trying to raise money, it's always better to have somebody say, 'Well here's what we're putting in.' Somebody's got to be first to say, 'Here's what we'll put on the table,'" he said.
Pacifica needs to "throw some skin in the game" if they want fireworks, Janney said, and the company has not approached the city about being involved.
"They know what's on the agenda, they know what happened last year. They've not approached us to participate in it," Janney said.
Pacifica Companies did not return calls for comment at the time this story was published.
The Imperial Beach Business Improvement District gave $10,000 to the Big Bay Boom this year. The assessment district pulled its funding in 2013 but said they would reconsider if the city threw its hat in the ring.
Part of the meeting strayed into talk about what used to be the city's largest annual event: the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition. Organized by an all-volunteer committee of local citizens, the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition came to an end in 2011. The event received no funding or help organizing from the city.
The city and chamber were able to find money for fireworks but "I think we're missing the boat that these funds really should have gone towards sandcastle days," said Councilwoman Lorie Bragg referring to the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition.
Over the course of three decades, the sandcastle competition grew to become the largest of its kind in the world. In its absence, the Big Bay Boom is now the largest event of the year in IB.
Bragg said if a choice had to be made between the two, she would rather see the money committed to the rebirth of a sandcastle competition through the .
Bilbray and Janney said the city should avoid requesting money from the Port of San Diego so there is still money to support future events in Imperial Beach.
"I just want us all to remember: If we ask the $25,000 from the port for this, the next time that we have something whether it be a sun and sea or a sandcastle they only have so much money in their budget too," Janney said.
Councilman Spriggs said he doesn't see funding for fireworks and a future sandcastle competition as an either-or proposition.
"We should have probably taken a more aggressive position on sandcastles when we first heard that this was happening," he said.
Councilman Bobby Patton said he would like to see the city make a concerted effort to hold fundraisers to pay for fireworks in the future.
When the City Council agreed to cut fireworks from its 2012-13 budget in June, there was talk of seeking additional sources of funding.
A study produced by economists at Point Loma Nazarene University found that the Big Bay Boom has a $10.6 million economic impact for the region, but results were not broken down for individual cities.
"We're not the same as having an 1,100-room hotel on the bay front," Janney said. "And then if you look at San Diego and add up how many of them they collect a lot of money from them and they expect us to come up with this huge amount with no proportion involved here. And Coronado doesn't put any money into it cause it's across the bay that puts the money into it."
Spriggs questioned how a study could find $10 million in economic impact but "it kind of makes me wonder how it's possible that this couldn't benefit Imperial Beach in some way."
Brown said the city may receive some economic benefit from the Big Bay Boom, but not enough to justify spending $25,000-35,000. July sales tax data shows no impact in comparison to years past when the city had no fireworks show.