July 4 Becomes Silent Night In Cash-Strapped Places

Fourth of July canceled i i

Colorado Springs doesn't have enough money to pay for Fourth of July festivities. Jeff Brady/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Brady/NPR
Fourth of July canceled

Colorado Springs doesn't have enough money to pay for Fourth of July festivities.

Jeff Brady/NPR

The poor economy has silenced dozens of Fourth of July fireworks displays around the country this year. In some cases city governments say they can't justify the expense considering tight budgets. In others, sponsors have withdrawn support as their balance sheets bleed red ink.

In Colorado Springs, Colo., the City Council ended a three-decade tradition of fireworks at its vast Memorial Park. Vice Mayor Larry Small says the city can't afford the $75,000 price tag for the celebration. Sales tax revenues were down about 20 percent last year, and the city cut 200 employees while shaving $51 million from the budget.

"Our public works department is almost gone," says Small. "The only thing we're doing in-house now is pothole-filling and snow removal."

Small says ending the city's Fourth of July party was one of the toughest decisions the council has had to make.

"It's a very meaningful celebration and when you have to go so far as to eliminate that, you know you're in desperate times," he says.

Search the Internet and you'll find reports of canceled celebrations across the country. Among them is Ipswich, Mass., which bills itself as "The Birthplace of American Independence."

"We were among the first that were objecting to the taxes the British were charging," says Pat McNally, chairman of the Ipswich Board of Selectmen.

For more than 30 years a local conservation group launched fireworks over Ipswich Bay, but it can't afford to do that anymore. McNally says he'll travel to nearby Salem, Mass., to watch fireworks there.

There are a few places around the country where fireworks were threatened, but then saved at the last minute. La Jolla, Calif., is one of the wealthiest communities in the country, and for almost 25 years folks there relied on the generosity of local restaurant owner George Hauer for their fireworks. But this year the economy has hurt Hauer, too, and he can't afford to be so generous.

That prompted Adam Harris to employ his guerrilla marketing skills to raise $27,000 in fewer than four days.

"We used Twitter. We used Facebook. We used [an] e-mail campaign," says Harris, who also launched a Web site.

Now Harris and others who helped with the campaign are creating a nonprofit group to raise money for next year's celebration.

The future of Colorado Springs' July 4 celebration doesn't look quite as bright. The city is going to have to make even deeper budget cuts next year, so it's unlikely the fireworks will return in 2010. As an alternative, the Fort Carson Army base and the Air Force Academy are offering residents fireworks displays on July 3.

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