He is not sure exactly how long Marion has had a Fourth of July fireworks display, but Jonathan “Jody” Dickerson remembers watching them when he was a child growing up in town. And the 50-year-old is now leading the charge to make sure a repeat of last year — when the event was canceled due to lack of funds — will not happen again.
Dickerson, director of the Marion Recreation Department, said the roughly $50,000 for the fireworks display and police, fire, harbormaster, and cleanup crew does not cost the town anything. The display is paid for solely through donations, and so far this year about $23,000 has been raised.
The problem of raising money to pay for fireworks is not unique to Marion. Other area towns, including Wareham and Plymouth, face their own struggle coming up with enough donations to ensure the holiday tradition lives on. In Braintree, organizers are paring down their overall budget, a year after the town contributed a big chunk of the $100,000 spent on its biggest and most expensive Fourth of July celebration. With a smaller contribution this year, organizers are expecting to spend about $84,000, with the majority of the money going toward the town’s after-party and fireworks display at Braintree High School.
“We’re doing very well, but obviously have a way to go,” Dickerson said of the fund-raising effort in Marion. “The gala helped.”
The Marion Fireworks Committee, headed by Dickerson, held a “Beach Party Gala” fund-raiser on April 6 at the Marion Music Hall, taking in $7,400. The committee is also selling Marion Fireworks T-shirts for $20 at the town clerk’s office, the Recreation Department at 13 Atlantis Drive, and the Hangman Coffee Hut at Point Road and Route 6, and is sending out another plea to residents asking for donations. The deadline to hit the $50,000 goal is June 1, Dickerson said.
In the past, when it looked like the event might be cancelled, an anonymous benefactor would step in to help, but with the economic downturn that has not been the case, Dickerson said.
“That didn’t happen last year, as it had before,” he said. “I think that was our wake-up call.”
Helping the cause this year is an entirely new fireworks committee, he said. The previous committee was “burned out” from years of trying to raise money, he said, and this year’s group has done mailings, put donation cans in town businesses, and asked people with boat moorings in the town harbor for money.
“A lot of planning goes into this,” said Dickerson. “The day of the event is the easy part. The police and Fire Department do an awesome job, and so does the town Department of Public Works cleaning up after. They get there at 5 a.m. the next day, and when they’re done you’d never know there were thousands of people there the night before.”
Marion Police Chief Lincoln Miller said recent years have seen an average of 7,500 attend the event, in a town of 5,000 year-round residents. Some years it has ballooned to more than 15,000, Miller said, adding “if we are able to coordinate it on the same night as other nearby communities, the crowds tend to stay on the lower end of those numbers.”
Wareham, another coastal community with its own fireworks tradition, uses revenue from the town’s hotel-motel tax to help pay for the display held in Onset Village.
Susan Ricci-Sohn, chairwoman of the town’s Community Events Committee, said the tax revenue pays for the roughly $17,000 it costs for police, fire, and harbormaster services, with private donations funding the rest of the expenditures, about $16,000.
Linda Gay of Wareham, who served many years on the Wareham Fireworks Committee that raised money for the event, said there were times when the contributions fell short and the display had to be cancelled.
“They didn’t have it for a couple of years and the community was beside itself,” Gay said. “The committee said if it just had to raise money for the fireworks, it would be all right.”
That’s when the Community Events Committee stepped in, Ricci-Sohn said, and the event has been going strong since.
“It’s a terrific display — it’s the same company that does the Boston Pops,” she said of the display that’s fired off at the Shell Point section of Onset Village. “It’s a very impressive fireworks show.”
About 50,000 people attend the fireworks, scheduled this year for July 6, said Jackie Lindsay, cochairwoman of the Wareham Fireworks Committee. A fund-raiser for the event is scheduled for June 6 at the Mezza Luna Restaurant in Buzzards Bay. For information and to donate, visit www.onsetvillage.org.p8.hostingprod.com.
In Plymouth, which puts on a bigger and more expensive display that attracts about 100,000 each Fourth of July to see the town’s parade and fireworks, paying for the event has also proved difficult in recent years.
“It’s a challenge every year,” said Selectman Ken Tavares, who has served on the committee that raises the money for the event, about $100,000.
Before budget constraints, the town used to pay for everything, he said.
“Now we have to raise almost all of it,” Tavares said. “When I started doing this back in 1981, I remember it costing $5,000 a year.”
The town kicks in $10,000 — if Town Meeting allows it, Tavares said. The measure did pass this year, he said, as a line item of the budget request for the town manager’s office.
“Some people say we’re crying wolf saying we need the money, but we’re not. It’s a very expensive thing to put on,” he said. “Some years it comes down to the wire, and we don’t sign contracts with any providers until we know we have the money.”
Tavares said the reason he and others fight so hard to put on the display is to give area residents something they love and have come to rely on.
“I was born in 1945 and remember going to fireworks in the ’50s here,” he said. “When I joined the committee, my son was little and I didn’t want him growing up without those memories I had.”
For information on Plymouth’s display, visit www.july4plymouth.com.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at kandarian@ globe.com.