Liberty Festival organizers worried about support from the cities

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LEWISTON — Tight budgets in Lewiston and Auburn may leave little room to support the July 4 Liberty Festival — and that would mean no Independence Day fireworks in the Twin Cities.

“If we don’t have their support, we can’t do anything,” festival director Richard Martin said. “We don’t have the money or the manpower or the resources to do anything. We’d have to go dark.”

Martin said the celebration has a $30,000 budget, and $20,000 of  that is devoted to the fireworks. The event also hosts entertainment and food booths downtown beginning in the afternoon of July 4.

Most of the festival’s budget comes from the cities. This year, festival organizers asked each city to donate $10,000 to pay for the fireworks. The event also depends on donated staff time from both cities to help set up, clean up and keep the event safe.

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That money is on the cutting block in both cities this year.

Auburn city councilors on Monday backed off a plan to trim $1 million from the proposed 2010-11 budget. It would have taken police officers out of the schools, consolidated neighborhood polling places into a single location and turned off the fountains in Festival Plaza. It also would cut support for the Liberty Festival and cut in-kind police and fire support for all special events.

Councilors voted Monday to reduce the cut from $1 million to $400,000 but did not specify what would be cut. That decision has been left to City Manager Glenn Aho, who is expected to recommend his cuts within the next two weeks.

The city of Lewiston is facing similar budget hurdles. Councilors are faced with having to increase the tax rate by as much as $1.41 per $1,000 of assessed property value or cut services and lay off as many as 20 employees. Other proposed cuts include Lewiston’s share of Liberty Festival and in-kind services.

Lewiston councilors are expected to discuss the budget at a special workshop meeting Thursday and could vote on changes Tuesday.

Martin said the festival needs support from both cities, or it can’t continue.

“This was entirely unexpected,” he said. “Traditionally, we get the support we need. The municipalities really do have a responsibility to celebrate this. It’s a celebration remembering those who died for us all back in 1776. So it is important.”

There is not enough time to raise private money to pay for the celebration this year, Martin said.

“The cities need to be main contributors here,” he said. “If you try to depend on private donations, you lose consistency.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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