THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Still going fourth

The economy has soured, but south of Boston, they keep shooting hard for a grand Independence Day

(Tom Herde/1999 Globe Staff File Photo)
By Rich Fahey
Globe Correspondent / June 28, 2009
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In the end, $25,000 proved a bridge too far for cochairman Nora Tarr and the 13 other members of the Bridgewater July Fourth Committee.

That’s the amount they needed to fund a full-fledged Fourth of July celebration, complete with fireworks. Tarr and the committee figured they needed between $8,000 and $14,000 for fireworks, $2,500 for the parade, and an additional $8,000 for public safety costs.

“We had cut that down from the originally designated $40,000 that we are supposed to try to raise,’’ she said.

As of June 16, the committee had raised a total of $10,500 and finally pulled the plug on the fireworks, which have long been the centerpiece of the holiday celebration.

In the cities and towns south of Boston, the celebration of this most American of holidays is running into the cruel reality of the worst economy in decades. Some communities like Bridgewater are cutting back, while others are scraping together private donations or public funds to cover the costs of Fourth of July celebrations.

The fireworks display has also been canceled for financial reasons in Canton. Middleborough scaled back its annual two-night display to one. Abington’s annual fireworks display, canceled last year for money reasons, this year ran afoul of a political dispute.

Plymouth’s July Fourth committee, faced with a choice between keeping its parade or fireworks, opted for the fireworks. In several other communities, decisions to go ahead with celebrations went right down to the wire before getting approved. In Bridgewater, Tarr said her committee started out this year with a negative balance that had to be paid off.

“Often money is promised, but never delivered,’’ she said. “The costs of all aspects of the celebration increase, and we have a bad economy.’’

Tarr said the committee not only had to battle a 50 percent dropoff in contributions, but also the tough economy and the apathy of many residents. Town officials say the public wrongly believes that the July Fourth celebration is a town-sponsored event.

In Canton, Recreation Commission Director Jeff Kaylor said the commission could only raise enough funds this year for one of two major events - the townwide block party or the July Fourth celebration, which included fireworks, a carnival, and a concert.

“We asked residents if they’d rather keep the annual block party in the fall or the July Fourth celebration, and they said the block party,’’ said Kaylor.

The neighboring towns of Stoughton and Sharon both hold fireworks displays on July 3.

“I think that was part of the thinking,’’ said Kaylor.

That strategy will apparently work for this year, because those neighboring displays are going forward, but Scott Goldman, of Sharon’s Independence Day Celebration Committee, said it hasn’t been easy.

“Our fund-raising is down from last year, and we are still in great need of additional donations,’’ said Goldman.

Middleborough usually has fireworks display on July 3 and 4, but the town cut back to one display this year on July 3 for financial reasons.

Fireworks became entangled with politics in the town of Abington this year, just as they did last year in Randolph.

In Abington, which was forced to cancel its annual fireworks display last year due to a lack of funding, the planned July 3 celebration this year evolved into a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t soap opera.

The display was first canceled by Fire Chief Arthur Pelland, who cited the ever-decreasing manpower in his department and what he felt was his inability to properly protect the town while so many firefighters were tied up with the fireworks.

After objections from residents and even members of his own firefighters’ union, Pelland relented and agreed to approve a permit for fireworks if one was submitted.

But Robert Baker, head of Abington’s Night Before The Fourth celebration, said that while all that was happening, vendors whose fees helped fund the event went elsewhere because of the uncertainty of the Abington situation, and he could no longer go forward.

“I had to let them go,’’ said Baker, who said he had raised about 80 percent of the money needed for the celebration. “This is their Christmastime.’’

Baker said he was unsure he would keep trying to restore the celebration, although the Abington Night Before The Fourth Committee was recently listed as one of the cosponsors of a traveling circus that performed in East Bridgewater.

Last summer, the town of Randolph had a similar situation. Members of the town’s firefighters union, locked in a contract dispute with the town, refused to work overtime details and the fireworks display that traditionally followed the July 3 parade had to be canceled. The town will go with just the annual July 3 parade this year.

The show will go on in Walpole, although there was plenty of doubt earlier this month.

The town’s Night Before The Fourth Committee made the decision to go ahead with a full plate of activities on July 3, including fireworks, a cookout and a parade, after the committee, which teamed with the town’s Recreation Department to raise funds, reached about 80 percent of its $30,000 goal two weeks ago and the Police Department agreed to cover the cost of its details.

The committee raised about $19,000 in just a few weeks after Smith first announced in April that the annual celebration would have to be canceled due to lack of funds.

“It went right down to the wire,’’ said Fire Captain Stephen Smith, chairman of the Walpole Night Before The Fourth Committee. He said he still might have to scale back the fireworks if the committee falls short of its goal.

In Plymouth, Ken Tavares of July Fourth Plymouth Inc. realized early on that there would be no angel to bail him out this year, as the Plymouth Rock Studios did with a $50,000 donation at the last minute last year.

So the committee voted to cancel the parade aspect of the Fourth of July celebration.

Just two weeks before the shells were to be fired, the committee was still trying to close the deal.

“We are still raising the money with another $6,000 to brought in,’’ said Tavares. “ I am confident that we will be able to have the fireworks.’’

Tavares said the total cost of the town’s celebration had risen to $92,000, including $38,500 in public safety costs, and the town’s corporate community has been picking up an increasing share of the tab.

Braintree’s annual July Fourth celebration, one of the area’s largest, is held the Saturday before the holiday, and the 36th renewal was scheduled for yesterday.

In Bridgewater, Tarr said her committee will forge ahead on the holiday with a parade, arts and crafts, and musical performances. And if she has her way, next year the fireworks will return.

“We will be able to pay everything for this year on the day the bill is due, and we will have a small cushion to start next year with,’’ she said.

The Quincy neighborhood of Squantum is marking the 100th anniversary of its July Fourth parade, which features hand-made floats, and kids with decorated doll carriages and bicycles. The event is funded entirely by door-to-door collections on the close-knit peninsula.

“It’s many of the same bands that have been performing for years,’’ said Squantum resident Maureen Mazrimas. “It’s fire engines and antique cars and ice cream down at the field after the parade.’’

Rich Fahey can be reached at faheywrite@yahoo.com.

Fireworks as usual

Communities with fireworks

last year that will have them

again this Fourth of July:

Braintree

Brockton

Freetown

Halifax

Hingham

Plymouth (no parade)

Marion

Sharon

Stoughton

Walpole

Wareham

Weymouth

Silent celebration

Communities with fireworks

last year that will not have them

this year:

Bridgewater

Canton

A little bit softer now

Middleborough

(two last year, one this year)