Friday, 16 April 2021 17:07

Hamlet cancels Fourth of July celebration for 2nd consecutive year

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Fireworks explode over Hamlet July 4, 2019. Fireworks explode over Hamlet July 4, 2019. RO file photo

HAMLET — For the third time in five years, there will be no fireworks exploding over the Seaboard City.

The Hamlet City Council voted Tuesday to cancel the annual Independence Day celebration for the second consecutive year due to budgetary constraints.

“The Fourth of July festivities were removed from the budget last year after the sales tax was changed,” City Manager Matthew Christian told the Council. “Currently that money is not on the budget.”

Christan said the fireworks vendor has recently contacted him asking whether or not the city will have them for 2021.

“It’s a very challenging situation and I think we all understand the very tough dilemma that we’re in,” Christian continued, adding that he needed to give the vendor an answer soon — after already buying time since the last budget meeting.

The city manager clarified with the RO on Friday that the total cost of the fireworks is $12,000 — with half being due up front and the other half due by the day of the event.

But paying for the fireworks “is just a piece of it,” according to Christian, with the city also having to consider public safety and sanitation requirements.

“All in all, we’re just in a very tight situation on that,” Christian said.

REV Federal Credit Union, which recently merged with Hamlet Federal Credit Union, had offered to partner with the city to help sponsor the event, according to Christian.

The dilemma is the same regardless of who pays for the fireworks,” Christian said. “There are other things to consider.”

Councilman Eddie Martin said he didn’t see where anything has changed from last year.

“We couldn’t do the fireworks show last year because of the county taking the (money) out of our budget … If we’ve got the money to do this, then I’d rather take this money and put it toward the employee bonus that we had cut out for them last year or some of the equipment that we had to lay aside because we didn’t have the money,” Martin said.

“How do we find the money to do this when we didn’t have the money to do it last year?” Martin continued. “To me, it would be a slap in the face to our city employees … As far as I’m concerned, if I’ve got to vote on it tonight to give him an answer, the answer is ‘No.’ That’s just how I feel about it.”

Councilman Jesse McQueen agreed.

Martin then suggested having the county pay for the entire thing, including the employees’ overtime pay.

“If they want to give us the money, then maybe we could look at that and see, but I doubt they’re gonna do that,” Martin said.

“For all practical purposes, this is a no-go,” said Mayor Bill Bayless.

McQueen said Martin brought up a good point about asking the county to foot the bill: “It’s because of them we can’t do it.”

McQueen and Martin added that a majority of the people who come to the annual celebration are from outside the city and asked why Hamlet residents should have to finance it.

Councilwoman Abbie Covington said it was obvious the city couldn’t pay for the show, but questioned if the city should take up REV’s offer.

Christian said he appreciated the discussion, adding that the council would be dealing with similar issues “until something changes.”

“It’s really, really tough and it’s outside of our control,” Christian said.

Martin also said it would be tough to enforce COVID regulations, including mask-wearing and social distancing. Currently, face masks are still required and outdoor mass gatherings are limited to 100 people per Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders.

“We’re probably asking for trouble,” Bayless said.

City Attorney T.C. Morphis suggested the council develop a policy regarding corporate sponsorships, which Covington said the city may have to rely on if it remains in dire financial straits.

In addition to this year’s and last year’s events being canceled, Hamlet called off the 2017 show due to safety concerns after receiving threats following the murder of Tierrell Martin.

The Ellerbe Lions Club also canceled its 2020 event because of state restrictions.

The RO, at the time of this story, was unable to confirm if the club would be holding its annual Jamboree.