Understanding, not fireworks, over July 4th cuts

June 28, 2010 11:43:22 AM PDT
The bangs are going out with whimpers.

For the second year in a row, budget struggles for local governments and other groups in villages, towns and cities around the country are putting the kibosh on fireworks - the biggest, loudest, costliest part of Fourth of July celebrations.

But there's not much outrage about the cuts.

Sure, it means a tradition is on hold, ice cream shops are getting a licking on one of their biggest nights and the glow-stick industry is taking a blow. And it's easy to find people saddened about all that. And sure, there have been efforts across the country - some failed - to save scratched shows.

Still, the whining has been scant. On the modern rallying point that is Facebook, hardly any pages are dedicated to fireworks gripes. The same is true of the old-fashioned soapbox on newspapers' letters-to-editors pages. Ask folks in a town whose identity had come partly from putting on a big display, and they don't seem bothered.

In Medford, the last in a solid line of suburbs stretching 20 miles east from Philadelphia, the township government called off the taxpayer-funded celebration that had been attracting up to 50,000 people to the community of 22,000 to ooh and ahh from parks, school grounds and shopping center parking lots.

The show was a chance to show off the town and a chance for locals to bond while celebrating the nation. It became a custom for locals in the well-to-do town to stick around for the fireworks on July 3, then head to the Jersey shore in the morning for the holiday. It was a boost for cafes and delis, not to mention any place selling bug spray.

The town's celebration included inflatable bouncers and slides to keep kids occupied during those grueling hours before dusk and a concert - at a cost of some $60,000. In a year when town officials say there's no money to hire police officers to replace any who leave the force, the patriotic festivities are expendable.

"If you've got to cut stuff, then you'd have to look at it," said Maryann Cowperthwait, who lives in nearby Westampton and has taken her granddaughter to the Medford fireworks over the years. But they don't always attend. They're sort of fireworks free agents, going to the display that suits their schedule.

Township officials say only one citizen stood up at last week's township council meeting to address the fireworks cutbacks, and he said it was the right decision.

Carmen Santore is the manager of DiVello's Deli and Market, a purveyor of hoagies and prepared foods and a place where local affairs are always the topic of the day. He said July 3 is normally a huge day for party trays, mostly to people who live close to the fireworks and host gatherings at home.

He didn't know about the cancellation until a reporter told him - a week after the township made the decision.

The cuts have come nationwide. The city of Akron, Ohio, scrapped its fireworks display because of a budget crunch. The festivities would cost about $100,000, including overtime for city workers. In Yuma, Ariz., the county fair board scrapped fireworks and the traditional July 4 demolition derby largely because of money problems.

Preserving fireworks has also brought people together in some communities.

A group of businesses in Seattle swooped in to save the celebration at Lake Union. A group in Antioch, Calif., couldn't save the fireworks this year but has a head start for 2011.

A New Jersey bank kicked in money to help set off explosions in the skies in seven communities in the state. And a businessman in Greenfield, Ind., wrote an $8,500 check to cover the display there after the local chamber of commerce decided there wasn't enough money in its budget to run the traditional show.

Chamber President Retta Livengood is grateful for the donation, but believes there would not have been much fallout in the town 15 miles east of Indianapolis had the show not been able to go on.

"We had some discourse where people were upset, but not rioting or anything like that," she said. "People just understand."

Back in Medford, Art Guzzi, a 76-year-old retired condominium manager, will tell you the nation's problem, or a big part of it, is dwindling patriotism. The Air Force veteran remembers times when there were far more flags flying from porches, when more people celebrated the country.

He wants that back. He's felt moments of it when he's taken his three grandchildren to his town's Freedom Park for the fireworks.

But, he said, he doesn't need his tax money to fund patriotism.

"There are a thousand ways to celebrate the Fourth without demanding the government pay for it," he said.