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Low funding threatens July Fourth celebration

Financial difficulties threaten the future of one local Independence Day celebration, as a neighborhood group readies its 56th year of festivities for this July.

The 21st Ward Independence Day Association is seeing second and third generation members take part in planning the annual 4th at Riverside celebration.

However, members of the nonprofit group say the recent lack of donations and increases in the costs of permits and fees has prompted them to cut corners on activities considered traditional for the five-day event at Riverside Park.

"If you've ever seen the movie 'Popeye,' it's a lot like that when he came in with the boat," said Ron Wacker, the association's oldest member. "There's a guy on the dock with a tax. There's a guy with a new boat tax. There's a stepping-on-our-land tax. Everything's like that now and, if you're a nonprofit, it's hard to keep up with it all."

The budget to put on the 4th at Riverside is typically around $35,000, said association President Jeff Smith. The event itself, he said, costs well over $30,000, factoring in liability insurance, $2,000 worth of prizes, security and a $6,000 to $7,000 soundstage, just to name a few of the expenses.

Whether it was a roller coaster, highwire act or giant Ferris wheel, past highlights of the event would have one believe the association was in the money. But when donations from large area companies and elsewhere started to disappear, so did some of the attractions.

Among some of the more recent cutbacks was the kids' petting zoo.

Next on the list of potential cuts, he said, could be the event's parade.

Even the fireworks has been cause for frustration, as the group battles to keep up with rising costs of the tradition, Smith said. Lower income could mean going from two nights of fireworks to one, said former president Bill Christy.

"I get like 22 minutes of fireworks for two days, and that was $10,000," Smith said. "Last year, they were running like $8,500."

Smith said the group primarily relies on money collected from rides and concession stands to finance the following year's 4th at Riverside.

For components like electricity, Wacker said, the city used to help. Now, he said the association relies on the generators provided by the ride's company.

"We try to keep the prices down on our carnival. We can say who can sell food and who can't," Smith said. "We don't have a beer tent, but we talked about that maybe as our next move."

He said the group has "long given up" on most fundraising attempts that proved fruitless in the past and, with fewer people in the organization, they don't have the same manpower to send people door-to-door either.

It takes nearly a whole year prior to the event to plan it, considering just the weeks that members say the association waits to hear from businesses they request sponsorship from.

"It's a shame that it's getting depleted when it could be so much," Christy said. "It really doesn't take that much time for a few people to do the right things. ."

A schedule for the event, which begins July 1, is available at www.4thatriverside.com/schedule.html.

e-mail: jsmith@buffnews.com

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