The Oak Bluffs fireworks display, a cornerstone of Island summer every August, will be cancelled next year unless the town finds a way to continue the show after the town Firemen’s Civic Association voted to end their sponsorship of the event on Sunday.
A press statement released after the vote by civic association president James T. Morse and his fellow officers explained the decision while acknowledging the fireworks’ rich Island legacy.
“The fireworks are a longstanding tradition that spans generations within our association,” the statement said. “Thousands of people plan their vacations around our fireworks each year, a fact that we have taken great pride in . . . this is not a decision that we have taken lightly.”
Economic considerations figured chief in the association’s decision to withdraw their sponsorship of the event. The cost for fireworks shells alone this year was $25,000 according to fire department administrative assistant Anita Billings.
“Over the years we have seen the fireworks budget expenses rise, while the receivable donations have fallen,” the association statement said. “The burden of providing for our families in these tough financial times has left our members with less and less time to volunteer. Almost 1,100 man hours go into the execution of the fireworks in addition to the months of fund-raising and preparations leading up to the actual event.”
Mr. Morse and the officers also acknowledged that the end of the event could affect the organization’s other charitable efforts.
“In addition to the fireworks, we provide sponsorship of the Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops, annual scholarships to high school seniors, holiday food certificates to many in need, and financial support to our sick or injured fire and EMS members. The fireworks have always served as our main fundraiser to support these efforts.”
When the matter was brought to the attention of the Oak Bluffs selectmen this Tuesday, board chairman Kathy Burton vowed that her board would “fix” the situation.
“I know we’re going to work it out,” she said. “I understand that the fundraising is very difficult in this economic downturn.”
Selectman Mike Santoro said the Oak Bluffs Association, the town business group, was in fact already taking steps to address the situation.
“We’re confident that we can continue it and keep it going,” he said. Mr. Santoro said possible solutions include privatizing the fireworks, recruiting corporate sponsors, fund-raising on WMVY or hiring a promoter. He said the Oak Bluffs Association expected to have a proposal for the town ready by the end of its next meeting.
“There comes a time when it has to be privatized,” Mr. Santoro said. “[The firemen’s civic association] can only do so much selling T-shirts.”
But selectman Gail Barmakian was wary of the new direction.
“I don’t want it to turn into a commercial affair,” she said.
“It’s very important that we continue this somehow, it’s just part of the Island summer,” said selectman Walter Vail.
“It’s like losing Illumination Night,” agreed Ms. Barmakian.
The vote at the firemen’s association meeting was 12 to 4.
In other business Tuesday, selectmen rejected a bid to regrade a property on Pennsylvania avenue next to the town wastewater facility for use as a Little League baseball field. The town had allocated $200,000 for the project and received only one bid for $205,773.
“We can’t do it because we don’t have the money,” said Ms. Burton. Interim town administrator Robert Whritenhour suggested the town put out a revised request for proposals in the spring.
“Some of us were a little disappointed that we only got one firm submitting a bid and it seems that’s almost a recurring theme for these projects,” he said. “It’s nice that they submitted a bid but it’s hardly competitive.”
Finally, the Oak Bluffs Veterans Day parade received a special designation of regional importance from the United States department of veterans affairs. Dukes County veterans agent Jo Ann Murphy applied for the designation by compiling a decade’s worth of newspaper articles about the parade.
“Out of all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, Oak Bluffs is the only one with that designation,” said Peter Herrmann of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9261 to the applause of selectmen.