Published in the January 21, 2016 edition


NORTH READING — Something was missing in North Reading last July 4. Ipswich River Park, where townspeople have become accustomed to an annual fireworks display, was dark and silent as the town’s Fourth of July Committee regrouped in its fundraising efforts for 2016.

But July Fourth Committee Chairman Nancy Wolfe brought good news and a request for support to the Selectmen last week. The fireworks display will be back in North Reading for 2016, she said. At the same time, Wolfe requested a modest amount of financial support from the town to cover public safety salaries.

Wolfe said the committee is planning an event on Saturday, July 2 that will culminate in fireworks in the evening and will also reprise last year’s very successful Food Truck Festival, with twice as many trucks as before. There will also be a “touch a truck” component for fire and police equipment that will very popular with children. There will be no entrance fee because they do not want to charge people to come and see the fireworks. She said the committee hopes to recoup that money with other activities.

The plans do not call for a carnival this year. They are expected to include crafters and jugglers and the committee wants to engage the local business community in a “shop local” connection. She feels the support of local businesses will be important to the committee’s long term success.

Last year’s food truck event at Ipswich River Park was almost too popular, with people experiencing really long lines and some trucks running out of food before the event was over. That’s why the committee plans to double the number of trucks for July and bring in other entertainment for all, like balloons, jugglers and facepainters to keep people occupied while standing in line.

Right now, the committee has a financial balance of $9,794, which is actually a little short of their goal. But Wolfe said they feel they can recoup the deficit to cover the expense of the fireworks with the town’s help in covering about $5,000 in public safety expenses. They hope to net close to $9,000 in revenue the day of the event, which would allow the committee to enter 2017 with a moderate balance.

“Our objective has always been to build our fund and not go into every year with a zero balance,” she said. “We really feel very strongly we need to come out of every year with some kind of cushion” for the next year  to keep the required fundraising at manageable levels. “That way there will be less of a chance I’ll be standing here, looking for assistance,” she added.

One of the revenue raisers eyed by the committee involves parking at Ipswich River Park. Wolfe said they would like to be able to charge a premium parking fee in advance for those who would like to be guaranteed a parking spot at the park. Everybody else would be at a satellite location and would come in by bus. This would be a profitable way to narrow the revenue gap, she said.

But Selectman Mike Prisco advised her to check with the police chief before moving forward with the premium parking idea. A similar idea to charge for preferred parking at the high school football games a couple of years ago was halted after only a couple of weeks.

Wolfe brought the plans to the Selectmen now, because while July 4 seems like a long time in the future, it’s really not. The $5,000 expense number for public safety is based on previous years’ experience, Wolfe said. She offered to touch base with the fire and police departments to tell them what is being planned and ask them for an estimate of what they would want to see at the event given the scope of the plans.

Selectman Jeff Yull lauded the committee’s efforts. “The excitement and determination of this committee to have a successful event is exceptional. This is a completely different approach – the food truck concept hasn’t been tried in the past before. The more food trucks, the more festive it will be.”

The Selectmen agreed to consider the committee’s request for financial support in next year’s budget. Stephen O’Leary suggested reserving a dollar figure in the fiscal 2017 spending plan now, so it doesn’t “fall off our radar.”

Don Kelliher, 3 Sandspur Lane, was in full support of the plan presented by Wolfe.

“I encourage the Selectmen and the Town Administrator to find some funds to support this worthwhile town endeavor. The committee is working very hard to raise some money and putting some town funds behind the effort will encourage the committee to continue their fundraising and have some money to carry over into next year and not have to start at zero,” Kelliher stated.