Coming off of a year that saw a cherished annual summer tradition lose nearly $15,000, members of the volunteer committee that oversees the self-funded Family Fourth are urging residents to support the fireworks and community gathering at Waveny.
Contrary to what many presume, the event (to be held this year on Saturday, July 4—tickets here and find an informational flyer at the end of this article) is not funded by the town, and greater numbers of family passes must be sold in order for it to remain financially viable, according to Tom Stadler, a member of the New Canaan Family Fourth Committee.
“It’s not free, and it’s not paid for by taxes,” Stadler said. “The only way to put [the fireworks] on is to sell the family passes and by donations. We have some very generous people, there are no tax dollars coming in, and everybody we use in town from Recreation to Fire to Police to Highway to Parks, we pay them out of a standalone fund for the day.”
He added: ““My appeal is for everyone to buy a pass to help support it. It gets a carful of people in, or if you want to walk in for $30, you get a wonderful show. Help support the show, because the more people that support it, the better the show is going to be. I don’t want to get to a point where we cut show the show back because we’re not selling enough passes or attendance drops.”
While online sales saw a 37 percent year-over-year increase from 2013 to 2014, from $8,870 to $12,140, those gains haven’t made up for a $10,000 decline in cash ticket sales, according to data supplied by Stadler. Here’s a look at offline sales receipts for the last three years:
- 2012: $54,655
- 2013: $52,252
- 2014: $42,402
Along with that decline in cash sales of family passes, New Canaan in 2014 paid police who staff the event—and do what Stadler called a “wonderful job”—more money than in years past, the data shows.
Whereas in 2013 and prior years, police who worked the Family Fourth had “banked a day” for those hours (essentially, taking the day later), last year they decided to get paid for it as usual—a perfectly understandable and legitimate option that they’ve always had, under their contract.
Whereas New Canaan paid police about $10,000 in 2012 and again in 2013, last year the town paid nearly $18,000 total, according to a line item breakdown of Family Fourth finances.
“They [police] staff it and get people in and get people out,” Stadler said, noting that Waveny is cleared of cars about 30 minutes after the fireworks show. “It is a fantastic job and they are entitled to that [option to get paid cash instead of ‘banking’ the day].”
It isn’t clear which type of compensation officers will seek this summer. Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said a plan should be laid out within two weeks. Contractually, each officer decides individually how to get paid, and it just happened that everyone decided to take the money rather than the day last year, he said.
Krolikowski said he’s looking hard at an operations plan that will be workable all around.
“We are looking to ensure that the staffing is sufficient and safe, while also cost-effective for the town,” the chief said.
The Family Fourth fund right now stands at about $30,000, Stadler said. Total expenses came to about $70,250 in 2014, he said, against revenues from ticket sales of $55,500.
To help address the shortfall, resident passes will be sold this year for $35 (they’ve been at $30 since 2008 and were at $25 prior to that, for as far back as records were kept), Stadler said.
Chris Cody, a 1973 New Canaan High School graduate who has lived in town since 1967, has been on the Family Fourth Committee for about 15 years. Asked about the event’s place in the life of the community, Cody said “the fact that it has gone on for 35 consecutive years speaks to fact that the community enjoys it, looks forward to it and actually expects it to happen.”
“What people don’t understand is that the town is not paying for it, and in this day and age with all the different building needs, the Fourth of July fireworks show is not on people’s priorities,” he said.