Vanishing funds could extinguish future Fourth of July celebrations

Within a couple of years, the annual Catonsville Fourth of July Parade could go the way of the dinosaurs and the dodo.

That's the fear as fundraising efforts continue to fall short of expenses, according to a member the Catonsville Fourth of July Committee.


Maureen Sweeney Smith, said this year could be the fourth in a trend in which fundraising efforts fall well short of the $95,000 necessary to pay for the parade and fireworks.

The fundraising efforts for the Independence Day celebrations in 2009 and 2010 each fell $10,000 short of the cost, Sweeney Smith said.


In 2011, the event had a $3,000 surplus, but Sweeney Smith said a developer's one-time $10,000 donation as a community benefit made the difference last year.

The Catonsville Fourth of July Committee has kept the 66-year-old celebration afloat by digging into its reserve, the amount of which Sweeney Smith declined to disclose.

"If things continue the way they are now, we'll probably be out of that reserve in two years," Sweeney Smith said. "Can you imagine what would happen if Catonsville didn't have a parade?

"We can't keep operating this way. We have to operate like a business," she said. "We see this trend and people aren't giving as much and our expenses are climbing like crazy."

The group's traditional Dance for the Fourth fundraiser in March sold 103 fewer tickets than it did a year ago, Sweeney Smith said.

"We're seeing our expenses go up, up, up," Sweeney Smith said. "In this economy, we're not seeing our revenue go up."

The cost of this year's celebration was slashed $5,000 from last year's by reducing the number of bands performing from 15 to 12 and not bringing back the Lone Ranger to ride in the parade.

"I don't know what you'd scale back on," Sweeney Smith said. "Fireworks cost what they cost and insurance costs what it costs."


The cost of parade insurance, for example, rose from $1,500 last year to $3,000 this year, Sweeney Smith said.

Sweeney Smith said the committee appreciates the dollars patrons stuff in the buckets on the Fourth of July, but much more than that is needed.

"There's so much general support for our parade and fireworks," Sweeney Smith said. "I wish there was financial support."

Vangel Paper, owned by Catonsville native Valerie Androutsopoulos and her husband, Angelos, have supported the Catonsville Fourth of July celebration for about five years.

"I think it's the epitome of Catonsville. It shows a sense of community," Valerie Androutsopoulos said.

After starting by providing the trash boxes placed along the parade route, the business now sponsors the fireworks, kinetic entries from the American Visionary Arts Museum and the Show Us Your Chair Contest, Sweeney Smith said.


If the town ever lost the celebration, Valerie Androutsopoulos said, "That would be a crime. It's such a tradition.

"I would hope that the community would step up and donate to keep this tradition going," she said.

Androutsopoulos said she thought a lot of the recent fundraising problems are linked to the sour economy but noted that it's not insurmountable if all businesses and individuals gave what they could.

Bryan Krickbaum, 30, the manager of Performance Collision on Edmondson Avenue, said he has hardly missed a parade since he went as a child with his family.

The Catonsville native said his company will sponsor the lighting and sound during the fireworks because he can remember how the companies that sponsored the celebration on signs and pamphlets always stood out to him.

Before he approached Sweeney Smith about becoming a sponsor, he had no idea how much it cost to throw the celebration, he said.


"I wonder if it's a lack of knowledge that people don't know how expensive it is to throw," Krickbaum said.

Krickbaum called the potential end to the Catonsville Fourth of July celebration "horrible."

The Catonsville Fourth of July Committee has tried to build off the success of last year's new fundraisers, such as the Show Us Your Chair Contest and a float registration fee of $50, and find new revenue streams.

One of the committee's popular new fundraisers is the sale of advertisements along the bottom of the stage for $500, Sweeney Smith said.

Sweeney Smith credited Bob Sansbury, a retired auto parts salesman, for increasing the haul from the door-to-door campaign for donations from about $500 to $7,000.

"We're stepping up and really trying to find ways to raise money," Sweeney Smith said. "After that, we might go the way of many other organizations that have lost their Fourth of July."