4th fireworks fall victim to economy
Commission votes not to fund show

COVINGTON - The county will not help fund the fireworks display at this year's Fourth of July celebration, commissioners decided Tuesday night.

With the county recently making $5 million in cuts to the current budget and facing more cuts next fiscal year, three commissioners said they couldn't support using taxpayer dollars to help pay for the annual event, held at the Church at Covington in Oxford.

"As we consider the situation we're currently in financially, and as we look at the budget projections for next year, I feel like we need to pass up this opportunity this year," said District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing.

The cost of the fireworks is $7,580, with the county and city splitting the cost at $3,790 each.

The county's decision means the city will also not pay its part, since the City Council's approval was contingent upon the county's participation.

"I think the citizens of this county would appreciate us not funding this ... I just don't see how we can ask the taxpayers during the times we're in to help fund the fireworks celebration," said District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming.

District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz suggested private funding be raised to pay for the fireworks.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson said that while he understands the county's financial situation, the Fourth of July celebration is a unifying event for the community.

"I think it's a very low price to pay for bringing the entire community together just once a year to celebrate the Independence Day of our country," he said.

The vote not to participate was 3 to 2 with Henderson and District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons opposing.

The Church at Covington sponsors the Fourth of July celebration in cooperation with the city and county.

Pastor David Payne said he's more concerned about whether the county and city will continue to provide public safety services, such as police and fire protection and EMTs, than the lack of funding.

Without that support, and use of county-owned property adjacent to the church, the event cannot take place, he said.

"We're kind of in limbo right now," he said, adding that a decision on whether to hold the event must be made by the end of March because of all the planning involved.

Payne said the church's budget for the celebration last year was $40,000, paid mostly through corporate sponsorships. Church members have been raising funds for this year's celebration since September, he said. The event is free to citizens.

"To not be able to have the event would be a loss for the community because it's something that's very popular," he said.

Payne noted that the economic benefit outweighs any expense to the county and city.

Many local restaurants sell food at the event, visiting entertainers stay in local hotels and families go to local stores to buy supplies for picnics to bring with them to the site, he said.

"It's a little sad and probably short-sighted on the county's part. I'm not being critical, but unfortunately, unless we have their cooperation, we can't do that event," he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.