The city’s popular Red, Rhythm & Boom fireworks show, which has drawn crowds as large as 60,000, has again fallen victim to budget cuts.
For the second year, Mason City Council suspended the popular summer festivities due to financial constraints.
“It’ll be quiet in Mason on July 4,” confirmed Jennifer Trepal, Mason’s public information officer.
When announcing last year’s cancellation, city officials said they predicted a 4 percent drop in general fund revenues this year and a general fund budget down by 5.5 percent from 2010.
Residents have long considered Mason’s fireworks display a local treasure, but the nod to patriotic nostalgia — and the police, entertainment, tents, stage and all the rest of the accouterments — doesn’t come cheap.
In past years, the city paid bands like Huey Lewis and the News, Grand Funk Railroad, Kansas and Styx upwards of $140,000 to headline Mason’s event.
Mason spent $400,000 on Red, Rhythm & Boom in 2009, according to city officials. Faced with dwindling income tax receipts, the city scaled down its festivities in 2010 to about half the cost.
When budget concerns fizzled last year’s Independence Day celebration, community members stepped up.
Employees of Prestige Fireworks rallied local businesses and residents to raise the $20,000 needed to put on a show. The Mason-based pyrotechnic business has about 20 employees, many of whom live in Mason and several who live on same block.
The scaled-down version didn’t include big-name entertainers, but did offer snack vendors and a shorter fireworks show with less explosions.
But the company says fundraising stalled and that it incurred losses preventing it from sponsoring a display again this year.
“Last year we did not come close to raising enough money to put together a show that met our high standards, so we took a large financial loss,” said Prestige representative Ken Shaner.
“Our goal was to help the city where most of us live put together a family-oriented patriotic celebration. I believe that we accomplished that goal, but as a small business we cannot financially afford to take the loss in 2012.”
News of the festival’s cancellation sparked disappointment among many residents, who say that Red, Rhythm & Boom allowed the community to come together and build up town pride — even if only for a few hours.
“[Red, Rhythm & Boom] has always been such a fun tradition with our friends and an event that really brought the whole community together for a fun celebration,” said Kelly Lippincott King. “It also brought people into Mason from the outside and allowed us to showcase what a great place Mason is to live.”
“It’s sad for our city,” echoed Sandra Spring. ” We need to keep attracting new residents and new business to our area–and we just lost a giant trophy we used to have.”
Other residents say fireworks are a luxury the city can no longer afford.
“It is a very smart financial decision,” said Brian Timson via Facebook. “Didn’t we just get rid of some teachers? Ask them if they would like a fireworks show or to have a job for another year.”
Some say they plan to watch shows at Blue Ash’s Red, White & Blue Ash, Lebanon’s Independence Day Festival or Kings Island.
Kings Island says its fireworks display will be “10 times” the score of its traditional nightly fireworks display. The Mason amusement park will stay open to midnight on July 4.
City council has not yet discussed whether next year’s budget will allow for Red, Rhythm & Boom, said City Manager Eric Hansen. Those conversations will likely be held in November or December as next year’s budget is determined, he said.
However, a string of high-profile development deals in Mason, including Seapine Software’s new $7 million technical center on Western Row Road, and headquarters expansions by AssureRx Health Inc., Rhinestahl Corp., Intelligrated and Top Gun, have helped ease the city’s budget crunch, said Hansen.
“We’re seeing positive signs of revenues stabilizing,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we haven’t taken several declines over several years.”
Shaner said his company is also still looking for corporate sponsors to fund an event next year.
“We hope that we can provide a patriotic fireworks display for the citizens of Mason in the future,” he said.