Chestertown council members, at the July 15 meeting, responded to numerous complaints from the public about the lack of a July 4 fireworks display this year.
Fireworks were dropped from the FY2019 budget during deliberations last Spring, in response to tightened fiscal circumstances that also led to an increase in the town’s property tax rate. However, since a 2018 fireworks show had been already included in the previous budget and was already under contract, the town went ahead with the display last summer on July 4, 2018. The town website did not mention that there would be no display in 2019, and many residents evidently assumed it would take place “as usual.” Some online search engines, including Google, made the same assumption and erroneously listed Chestertown as one of the Shore towns with a July 4 fireworks show.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll described the reaction as “a lot of flak,” adding that one complaint that “went overboard” was turned over to the police. “If everyone out there who’s angry wants to donate, this is a good time,” Ingersoll said. He said the town could put up “an unbelievable show in the space that we have” for $7,500. He said the town could start accepting donations for next year right away.
“A lot of people should have known,” said Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, who presided over the meeting while Mayor Chris Cerino was on vacation. She noted that the decision to eliminate the fireworks display was made more than a year ago. “Maybe they just weren’t paying attention,” she said. She asked how far in advance of a proposed fireworks show would the town need to start obtaining the necessary permits.
Ingersoll said permits from the U.S. Coast Guard and “the bomb squad” need to be obtained three months before a proposed display, “so we usually start in February.” He said the town has staged the display on the same small site near Wilmer Park for several years now. “It’s very visible from the river,” he said.
Councilman Marty Stetson said the town should try to find some community organization that would take on the fireworks display. He said he felt it was unfair to taxpayers to fund the display out of public money when not all of them are interested in fireworks. He said after the meeting that he knows of very few residents of Ward 4, which he represents, who go to the show. He said that Rock Hall, which finances its fireworks from donations, actually has money left over after the show, which he said costs about $20,000.
“I know the boating community was upset,” said Stetson. He said he asked people who complained to him how much money they would be willing to contribute for a show. “I think it would be great if some other organization heads it up,” he said. “The government doesn’t do well raising funds.”
Kay MacIntosh of Main Street Chestertown said there had been discussions last year about her organization possibly taking over the fireworks, but she would have to talk to her board before she could make any commitment. She said the organizers of a Fall Car Show scheduled for September told her that if the show made any money they could donate it to the cause. MacIntosh said she had gone on vacation to a little town in Pennsylvania where the local businesses sponsored the display, and there were signs all along the road acknowledging the sponsors.
Councilman David Foster said he had talked to members of the town’s fire department who had a booth at the Farmers Market last Saturday. He said they appeared willing to consider the idea, although they made no commitment. He said he had written them a letter proposing the idea for them to discuss at the next department meeting, which he couldn’t attend because it took place at the same time as the council meeting. He pointed out that the fire department is in need of more volunteers, and that they have “fundraising challenges of their own.” As a result, it would probably require another organization to work with them to do some of the fundraising and advertising. Also, he said, the firefighters would probably want to touch base with the Rock Hall Fire Department to see what was involved. “I was pleased that they would be willing to discuss this on short notice,” he said. He said he would report what he heard back from them.
Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said there are several community organizations “that want to contribute and make it happen,” and that working with the fire department could be a good way to bring all the resources together.
Also at the meeting, the council heard the monthly police report; a report on proposed “no parking” bags to place on downtown meters when a festival or other event requiring street closings is scheduled; and a short preview of the September car show. Look for a full account of these and other town council matters in an upcoming issue of the Chestertown Spy.