Every year the Town of New Paltz lights up the sky with their Independence Day fireworks celebration. This year, however, there may not be as many “oohs” and “aahs.”
On Feb. 14, The New Paltz Times’ front cover announced that this year’s fireworks show is in jeopardy, citing a lack of volunteers and fundraising. For the celebration to happen, the ball is now in the court of the community members.
“It’s my favorite gig to play,” said New Paltz native Esme Ariel, “I’ve sung the National Anthem at the July 4 Ulster County fireworks three times.”
“It’s a pretty big deal—hundreds of people, lots of vendors, live music and last time they had a tiny house expo,” Ariel said.
Organizing the fireworks festivities used to be a volunteer effort. After the 2016 election brought in a new administration, Supervisor Neil Bettez and the Confidential Secretary to the Supervisor Kathy Preston, those duties are now in Preston’s hands.
“It just kind of landed on my desk,” Preston said.
“The folks who have been associated with it from the previous administration did not want to do the volunteer work anymore, so just by default it became something that was organized entirely through the town.”
On top of the fireworks display, which runs about $6,000, the event costs include renting the county fairgrounds ($750), bounce houses ($1,000), sound and lights ($1,175) and $2,725 for the day’s entertainment, according to The New Paltz Times.
Over the years, the town board has paid $6,750 for the fireworks show and for the rental of the Ulster County Fair Grounds, while the community handled fundraising for the rest. Due to this year’s budget cuts and health insurance costs going up 12 percent, there is no room in the town’s budget to contribute towards the fireworks.
According to Bettez, putting this cost onto the taxpayers has become unsustainable and it’s just not an expense which can be budgeted any longer.
Year after year, Shop Rite in New Paltz has been an outstanding sponsor, donating about $3,000 towards the fireworks. However, the town went from having a large sponsorship base to having a single sponsor, and Preston simply does not have the time to do all the fundraising on her own.
Attendance for the New Paltz fireworks show has been on the decline, mostly due to the unaccommodating weather and the location of the Fair Grounds. It has become a common practice for people to view the fireworks from other locations to avoid dense traffic surrounding the Fair Grounds.
“Most of the issue has been due to severe weather,” Preston claimed. “We’ve had a couple of very rainy years in a row, and have had to do a lot of cancellations and rain dates.”
If these various challenges and obstacles teach us anything, it’s that the scope of the fireworks show needs to change.
“There were three different musical acts and the town paid upwards of $1,000 to have someone bring in bouncy houses,” Preston said. “There may not be able to be the exact same event every year, maybe it can be downsized or upsized depending on what kind of response I get to donations.”
But for the fate of this year’s fireworks show, there may be a glimmer of hope.
On Monday morning, Feb. 25, Preston met with three volunteers from the community—Rosalie Hasbrouck, Lorie Morris and Timothy Fulton—and officially handed over the responsibility to them.
The money left over in the board’s reserve account—a little over $5,000—will be put towards this year’s fireworks show. The rest of the money required rests on the fundraising efforts of the volunteers.
Exactly how the volunteers will fundraise and acquire the needed sum still remains in question.
Preston went on to disclaim that “I can’t guarantee that the town will have the fireworks, but if they are able to fundraise for what they need, then yes, it will be happening this year.”