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No more big bangs?

We may have seen the last community Fourth of July celebration in Staunton. At least that’s what I’m hearing.
“Our committee is going to meet at the end of the month to make decisions about whether this festival goes on next year or not,” America’s Birthday Celebration organizer Terri Corey told me before Saturday’s big Fourth events at Gypsy Hill Park.

The context to our talk – Staunton City Council’s move earlier this year to cut $13,500 in funding, essentially the amount used for the annual Fourth of July fireworks at the park, from the city budget.

ABC was barely able to make ends meet this year, Corey told me, raising the bulk of its $60,000 event budget from private sources. “We have just made the budget. We don’t have a single dime left over. It’s going to be extremely tough to make it more years like this,” Corey said.

The post-Fourth celebration in Waynesboro known as Summer Extravaganza is also a public-private partnership, between the city and the local Kiwanis Club. Its future is secure, even as funding for fireworks came under fire earlier this year as City Council looked at its own dwindling budget revenues. The question was raised by City Councilwoman Lorie Smith.

“We’d cut almost $2 million from the ’09 budget, and we knew we were looking at a tough 2010 budget. And in Council’s opinion, not just mine, everything was on the table. For me, it became basically a matter of us making sure we were providing core services, basic core services, and making sure we had the funds in place to provide services, and then looking at discretionary spending for things we could defer or things we could maybe live without for a while,” Smith said.

“I’m a huge proponent of quality of life in our city. I think it’s important that the Council have a comprehensive, mountaintop view of what it takes for us to secure service delivery and to do our part and play an appropriate role in terms of quality of life. But in an environment where everything was on the table, even down to letting personnel go, this was just one of the items that I felt we had to look at,” Smith said.

City parks and recreation director David Van Covern took the rare step of criticizing Smith’s policy questions in an interview with me talking about the 30th anniversary of the Summer Extravaganza. “This year we were in shock that Councilman Smith proposed a reduction in the fireworks for this year’s event. Boy, did the phone ring off the hook with that one. We understand, I understand, Mrs. Smith’s position on spending money on fireworks when everything else is so tight. But boy, did that ring negatively in the community,” Van Covern said in our interview.

Van Covern went on to praise City Council for protecting funding for the fireworks show for this year’s Extravaganza event and next year’s event as well, but I later learned in a conversation with city budget director Pat Nicosia that City Council did in fact cut funding for the fireworks show next year by $2,000, to $8,000

Is there a way to save the shows by further engaging business and industry into the effort? I think so, using the experiences of ABC and Extravaganza and my own experience as the general manager of the Waynesboro Generals Valley League baseball team as a guide. There is sponsorship money out there, and who wouldn’t want to have their business associated with the effort to save the local summer fireworks shows?

“We’ve encouraged our agencies to get community sponsorships to help us achieve some of what we try to do in the community. I think for an event like this, there is an opportunity to create some private-public partnerships that I think would be beneficial,” Smith agrees.

“There’s already a great partnership in place with the Kiwanis Club on concessions dating back to the inception of the Extravaganza. To think that maybe we could extend that for fireworks to me would be an asset to the community,” Smith said.

It could also be the case that taxpayers in Augusta County could be asked to chip in to the local shows. I’m not sure if there’s a history to serve as a guide to that end. It only came up as a thought for me after hearing back from a Facebook reader poll on our local fireworks shows from county resident Patrick Smith.

“Fireworks are still a major draw. I used to make trips D.C., Baltimore and New York just to see the mega displays. Waynesboro still gets my vote for have the best-looking fireworks in the local area,” Smith said. “The fireworks are a symbol of the battles fought for freedom. The struggle to keep freedom and equality alive is never over. The Fourth should rally us appreciate what we have, thank those that gave us our freedoms and remind us that we shouldn’t just use up our gift but work to equalize freedom for all.”

I don’t have any hard data to back me on this, but it seems to me that county residents make up a good population at Ridgeview Park every year for the Summer Extravaganza, and I could say the same for the ABC event in Staunton every Fourth.

Between the taxpayers in the two cities and the county and business and industry locally, we have to be able to figure out a way to keep our fireworks shows going. Right?
“I don’t want to see it end. I don’t think any of us do,” Corey said from the perspective of Staunton’s Fourth, but I think she spoke for all of us across the board.


What do you think?

Share your thoughts on local fireworks shows in our Comments section below.


– Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press