July Fourth Fireworks Are Another Recession Casualty in Many Towns

Many towns are having to cut July 4 fireworks from their budgets
Many towns are having to cut July 4 fireworks from their budgets

Belmond, Iowa, City Manager Lee Ann Waltzing is approaching this year's Fourth of July celebration with some trepidation.

This year's festivities in the town of 2,560, which include a fireworks display, a talent show and sports tournaments, were funded in part through a $10,000 grant the city won from a contest run by Liberty Mutual where residents answered an online quiz on U.S. history. What happens after that isn't clear.

"It's becoming harder and harder to justify," she says of the $20,000 event. "The tax dollars only go so far, and it's one of those expendable items."

Budgets Squeezed Nationwide

Waltzing's sentiment isn't unique. In towns across the U.S., such as North Providence, R.I., residents won't see the rockets red glare or the bombs bursting in air because they can no longer afford to celebrate the anniversary of our nation's independence. Municipal budgets are being squeezed tightly by declining state aid. Essential services such as police and fire departments are being cut, so it's not surprising that celebrations are facing the budgetary axe.

Other places such as Birmingham, Ala., may scale back the festivities as well unless they can attract more corporate sponsors. The Independence Day celebration in Moorestown, N.J., across the Delaware from Philadelphia, was canceled for the second year in a row. Monterey, Calif., suspended its Fourth of July festivities because of "budget constraints and ongoing safety concerns regarding the Fireworks Display," according to the city's website. Maplewood, Minn., Mayor Will Rossbach told the Pioneer-Pressthat it no longer made sense to pay about $19,000 for the town's 30-minute fireworks display while struggling to maintain more basic city services.

In another strategy, Morris Plains, N.J., saved its traditional July 4th fireworks display -- and some of its tight budget -- this year by holding it on Saturday, June 26, instead.

Sponsors Step In

The fireworks industry says it isn't worried that the Fourth of July tradition will fizzle after 234 years. Many towns are saving money by using less expensive fireworks, cutting the length of their shows and using less elaborate pyrotechnics. "They assure me that business is as good as ever," says Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, in an interview.

Indeed, several shows that were set to be canceled are now going to happen. Sponsors stepped forward earlier this year to save the celebration in Indianapolis. In Dallas, the city's Fourth of July celebration was canceled after the nonprofit group that organized it failed to attract enough corporate sponsors. City officials weren't able to help.

"But Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, dismayed that city officials did not come up with the money, said earlier this week that he was going to make it happen, period," according to the Dallas Morning News.

New July 4 Traditions

And that's what happened. The show was moved to July 5 and was funded by a local scrap-metal recycling company.

A similar outpouring of public support saved the Independence Day celebration in Seattle -- along with the generosity of local businesses such as Microsoft (MSFT) and Starbucks (SBUX) that raised $500,000 for the program. Mayor Mike McGinn was so impressed that he proclaimed the day the good news was announced as "The Day the People Saved the Fireworks," according to the Seattle Times.

This may be the start of a new fireworks tradition: People who want honor the founding of our country in the future will probably have to pay for it themselves.