BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon is planning an Independence Day fireworks celebration without the crowd congregation.
At Buckhannon City Council’s Thursday, May 21 meeting, which was live-streamed on YouTube via Channel 3, council members voted unanimously to sponsor the city’s annual Fourth of July fireworks, which will be set off on Sunday, July 5 at dark, at about 9:45 or 10 p.m.
This year’s fireworks celebration may look a little different than in years past, with viewers being encouraged not to congregate in crowds and perhaps watch the fiery purples, reds, pinks and yellow streaking across the sky from inside their vehicles.
Mayor David McCauley said city officials had been unsure whether Buckhannon should sponsor the annual event in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but had ultimately opted to give it a go. However, this year’s fireworks won’t look like it has in years past, the mayor said.
“We had previously allocated funds for our fireworks, and because of the pandemic, we were leery about the opportunity to do this,” he said Thursday. “However, the last couple of the weeks, we’ve circled the wagons, and we think we can do a social distancing kind of a [celebration]. Again, this would not involve the big stuff in Jawbone Park that we typically do, but we could still set off fireworks at the same location at the back of Walgreen’s and Citizens Bank where we’ve used it as a launching pad for the last several years.”
Councilwoman Mary Albaugh made a motion to approve the city’s sponsorship of Independence Day fireworks, which was seconded by city recorder Randy Sanders. The motion passed unanimously.
McCauley asked city information coordinator Callie Cronin Sams to alert residents as soon as possible about the date and time of the fireworks.
“Callie, if we could, we know that we have dogs, and maybe other pets that are ill-affected by fireworks, not to mention some veterans that are adversely affected by them,” the mayor said. “So, we want to get the word out as quickly as possible that at about 9:45 or 10 p.m. on Sunday night, July 5, we’re going to be setting off fireworks, so that way they can take their necessary measures to avoid hearing the booms.”
Sams said she would publicize the event on the City of Buckhannon’s website and Facebook page.
In other city news, council also tabled a request for $5,000 from the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Association, the amount the city typically contributes to the festival annually.
“The city traditionally does this,” McCauley said. “However, we traditionally have a Strawberry Festival, and this year we did not have a Strawberry Festival.”
The mayor explained that he’d received a letter from WVSFA Board Member Michael Livesay saying that some of the festival association’s expenses are ongoing, regardless of the postponement of the 79th Festival until May 2021.
“My understanding is, is that we’ve facilitated a reach-out for some stimulus money (the CARES Act), and we haven’t heard definitively about that effort,” McCauley said. “I think that while we certainly want to support our friends with the festival as we always do, we would also prefer to fully explore the stimulus opportunities before we would entertain taking monies out of our general fund.”
McCauley explained Sams had assisted the WVSFA in applying for a CARES Act Emergency Relief Grant through the West Virginia Humanities Council.
Sanders, who specializes in working with fairs and festivals, said the WVSF is likely requesting the money to cover the cost of office rent, utilities, supplies and more.
“We’re in a zone here where we have to wait until they hear do hear officially about the grant from West Virginia Humanities Council,” Sanders said. “We want to make sure the city isn’t providing funds that the grant would have covered.”
Sanders said waiting to see whether the festival receives a CARES Act grant through the Humanities Council would be “the prudent thing to do.”
“I work with fairs and festivals all over the state, and a lot of them are in same situation,” the city recorder said. “They went into the season expecting to have an event, so they did make certain expenditures that now they either have to wait for refunds until certain times, or they’re just going to have to carry their losses over into their next operating year.”
Sanders said if the festival has specific needs not covered by the grant, or if it fails to receive the grant entirely, council could then reconsider allocating funds.
Councilman David Thomas made a motion to table the request, which was seconded by councilwoman Pam Bucklew prior to passing unanimously.