WINSLOW — Organizers of the Fourth of July celebration that draws tens of thousands of people here say the town is putting up financial barriers that could endanger the festivities, but municipal officials say they are only trying to make sure the event is safe and do not want to force it out of town.

The Winslow Family 4th of July, a multi-day event that’s been around for 25 years, includes a parade through town, live music, contests and fireworks at Fort Halifax Park, on the banks of the Kennebec River. The event is put on by volunteers and run by a nonprofit group with a board of directors.

Last June, organizers contacted Fairfield town officials to discuss moving the event there in the future, a discussion that was quickly cut short. Still, the perception persists that Winslow officials are tired of hosting the event, which draws about 70,000 people over three days — nearly 10 times Winslow’s population.

But now, with a hike in the estimate for the cost of police coverage for this year’s event, the celebration’s future is in question.

Kevin Douglass, chairman of the Winslow Family 4th of July Committee, the volunteer group that puts on the event, said the estimated $11,000 price for police coverage may be too high. The Winslow Police Department recently provided the group with that estimate for required police coverage, which is about $4,000 more than last year — in past years, such coverage has cost $4,000 to $7,000 — and possibly too much for the group to afford, Douglass said.

“They say the Fourth can be held there, but the bills are making it impossible for it to be held there,” Douglass said Friday.


It typically costs $50,000 to $60,000 in total to put on the event. Event organizers in past years have struggled to raise enough money in donations to help pay that cost and have had trouble attracting enough volunteers.

Winslow police Chief Shawn O’Leary said Friday there are several issues driving the increased cost of public safety coverage. Primarily, the extra money is needed to bring in up to six extra officers from nearby police departments to provide backup for the Winslow force, he said.

A state-funded Kennebec County underage drinking task force previously had provided the extra officers for the busiest nights of the celebration at no charge to the town or event, but that group disbanded in 2014, O’Leary said. Last year, O’Leary decided to go ahead without bringing in additional officers. But a driver leaving after the fireworks almost crashed into a group of people, making O’Leary realize more police coverage is needed.

“This year, we said we need to have some officers dealing with the crowds as they are exiting the park,” he said.

On top of the additional officers, Winslow has to bring in Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office deputies to patrol the town while the department’s officers cover the Fourth of July celebration.

A list of police requests sent to organizers included tower lights to illuminate a dark crosswalk on Bay Street across from the park and a requirement that they use several certified crossing guards, a request he has made for several years and even offered the group free training for guards.


The group’s reaction to the requests “really bothered me, because our requests were simply for public safety,” O’Leary said.

“I am entrusted with public safety for the entire town of Winslow and all of its residents,” he said. “It is important to me that everyone has a fun, enjoyable and safe experience.”

He said suggestions that the town is increasing the event cost to force it out of town are not true. “I think there is so much miscommunication going on,” he added.

That confusion was front and center at Monday night’s Town Council meeting, when about a dozen volunteers complained that town officials were using high costs to close the celebration down.

Some accused Town Manager Mike Heavener and others of using deception to confuse the situation.

Sheila Gaulin, a longtime event volunteer, said, “If you want us to leave, that is a sure way to get rid of us, to make sure we cannot afford it.”


Gaulin and others objected to what they called a list of demands from the Police Department, including having street lighting and trained crossing guards at this year’s event, with the possibility that the group’s event permit could be revoked if it didn’t meet the requirements.

“I really don’t want to put 100 hours in and then have my permit pulled,” Gaulin said.

Aside from a perception that the town is intentionally making it harder to hold the Fourth of July event, organizers complain the town has sent mixed messages and communicated badly with the group. Members of the organizing committee on Monday said town officials had not attended its meetings or reached out to work out any issues.

“We just need to be on the same page,” Gaulin said.

But councilors on Monday said the town had made it clear to Douglass what was expected, and explained why the cost of police services was increasing. The miscommunication was largely internal to the committee, they contended.

“It seems to me that there is a disconnect between Kevin and the rest of the committee,” Councilor Ray Caron said. Councilor Steve Russel echoed his point, saying that a lack of communication among the organizers led to innuendos and half-truths.


On Friday, Douglass said he felt as though he was being blamed for the problems. Organizers thought they were being forced into a political game, he said.

“They want their voice heard and they want to have people understand that it is a constant battle to put it on every year,” Douglass said. “I want no more fighting. I want no more of this sneaky back-door crap. If you don’t want it, just say you don’t want it.”

The event committee and the board of directors are still discussing whether to move the event to another community and how it could afford to keep it in Winslow, he added.

“At this point, it is all up in the air as to what we will do,” Douglass said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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