Rising insurance costs, disappearing sponsors, and depleted town budgets mean that many communities are struggling to pay for traditional Fourth of July fireworks shows. In some cases, towns are canceling the festivities altogether.
The Southgate Mall in Missoula, Mont., for example, announced in June that it wouldn't be hosting its annual July 4 fireworks display this year. The cancellation means there will be no officially sanctioned fireworks shows within the city limits on Independence Day in 2016.
A mall spokesperson was vague about why the fireworks show got the axe, but a weekly newspaper in the region later reported that the vendor that usually puts on the display saw its insurance rates double this year and felt forced to pull out because it just wasn't financially feasible.
Similarly, new insurance requirements resulted in the cancellation of traditional July 4 fireworks in Lexington, Ky., last summer. A change in rules stipulated that permits for fireworks shows needed a minimum of $5 million in insurance coverage, up from $1 million previously.
This summer, many communities are scrambling to cope with the exploding costs of hosting fireworks shows. In Athens, Ga., for instance, the total price of putting on a fireworks show this Friday has ballooned to over $82,000, including $10,000 just for insurance and $16,000 for a police presence that was doubled during the planning stages. As of mid-June, sponsors had been lined up to cover about $50,000 of the bill, but that leaves the local development authority on the hook for more than $30,000—and it only allocated $15,000 for the event.
Communities that are having a hard time just covering their usual bills are particularly apt to bail on July 4 fireworks shows. "We'll go as far to say that Canton should not spend any tax dollars on fireworks not only this year but also in years to come — at least not until it can staff its safety forces adequately without the looming threat of cuts," the editorial board of the Canton (Ohio) Repository wrote recently, noting the $5.1 million budget shortfall currently facing the city. "The city can't, and so the city won’t, pay for the $25,000 fireworks display that caps off the Monumental 4th celebration, or for the costs of entertainment, overtime for city workers and portable bathrooms."
The city of Lawrence, Kan., meanwhile, had been trying to expand its traditional July 4 fireworks show this year, but ultimately had to cancel the event because it was too costly. It's now hosting a scaled-down display instead. The original festival and fireworks show sought $19,200 in funding from the city, but when the budget allocated just $5,000, as it had in previous years, those initial plans had to be cancelled.
Before Lawrence retrenched, organizers launched a GoFundMe page to solicit donations from the public. But only $240 of the $5,000 goal was offered up by the community.
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In fact, cities and towns all over the country have been turning to crowdfunding and asking for private donations in order to avoid having to cancel fireworks shows. The long list of spots begging for people to chip in includes large and mid-size towns like Norwalk, Ct.; Towson, Md.; Trenton, N.J.; and Reno, Nev., as well as smaller burbs such as Kewanee, Ill.
Another small community, Oologah, Okla., has likewise been asking for locals to mail in checks or drop off money in person because costs have skyrocketed. "We are now facing the increased cost for fireworks and more costly ATF regulations for transporting explosives," Mike Fawcett, the owner of the marina that puts on the annual show, wrote in the local paper last month. "Providing the same quality of show as we have in years past will cost almost double what it has before. If we do not receive enough in donations, we will have to really cut back our show or not have one altogether because the show’s cost now is more than $10,000."