WINSLOW — Organizers of the annual Fourth of July celebration, which draws 10 times the town’s population, say town officials are “pushing us out of town” with an accelerated deadline for bills and “skyrocketing” costs. However, the town manager said he is concerned mostly about public safety, which is why costs have increased.

The Fourth of July festival has been in Winslow for 26 years. It’s a multi-day celebration that includes a parade, concerts, children’s activities and a fireworks show in Fort Halifax Park. A nonprofit group staffed by volunteers with a board of directors puts on the event each year, which draws about 70,000 people.

It typically costs $50,000 to $60,000 to run the event. Organizers in past years have struggled to raise enough money in donations to help pay that cost.

At a Town Council meeting on Monday, the council and Town Manager Michael Heavener discussed the committee’s outstanding balance owed to the town.

According to Heavener, the committee paid the town for 2014 expenses in March 2016.

For 2015, it owes $6,177.94, and for 2016 it owes $10,355.72. Heavener said the committee made a $2,250 payment toward the 2015 balance on July 26, 2016, reducing the total outstanding balance to $14,283.66.


“Historically, they’ve always paid before the end of the financial year,” Heavener said by phone Wednesday.

The town’s financial year ends June 30, and the committee gets one year to pay its balance. The 2015 expenses should have been due by June 2016, and the 2016 expenses would normally be due by June 2017. However, because the 2015 bill is late, the town has set a due date for the total balance for Oct. 26, 2016. The two years’ payments were combined because 2015’s payment was so late, Heavener said.

The council agreed that if the bill isn’t paid by Oct. 26, the town would set up a payment agreement with the committee through which it would pay a monthly amount. If it still didn’t pay, Heavener said, the town would have to talk with its attorney.

Meanwhile, Kevin Douglass, the committee’s chairman, said that the outstanding balance from 2015 is only about $1,000. He also said the Parks and Recreation Department gave the committee more time to pay for its 2015 permit.

An email from the parks and recreation director dated March 2, 2016, says, “We will not be issuing a permit until the unpaid balance from 2014 is paid in full ($2,963.78). We will give you addition time to pay the 2015 balance.”

The Parks and Recreation director, Jim Bourgoin, was not immediately available for comment.


“In 26 years, the Fourth of July committee has never not paid its money,” Douglass said by phone Wednesday. He said that while it sometimes paid a bill late, it never neglected to pay the town.

The October deadline for both 2015 and 2016 will be difficult for the committee, as it relies solely on donations and volunteers to run the free events, Douglass said, although it will try to pay the bills. He said changing the deadline was a “crooked move.”

“Mike Heavener is hoping it’s not doable for us,” he said. “He’s hitting us where he knows he can, which is finances. … We can’t afford to stay in Winslow.”

According to Douglass, the committee had to pay for additional equipment this year that it “didn’t even use.” He also questioned a requirement that the Fire Department be present — and paid — all weekend and not just on the night of the fireworks.

“The bill used to be manageable,” Douglass said. He mentioned the Liberty Festival, for which the town gives the organizing committee $16,000 and free police service; as well as Oakland, which similarly works with the OakFest committee to put on a festival and provides free police officers.

“It kind of opens your eyes a little bit as to exactly how Winslow is running right now,” Douglass said.


The committee is looking at other towns that might be willing host the event next year, including Fairfield.

Ron LeClair, who ran the committee for 20 years starting in 1995, said that working with the town “was a rocky road for 20 years.”

The increased costs are the result of police coverage, Heavener said. Previously, the town had taken advantage of a state-funded Kennebec County underage drinking task force, which would provide extra officers at no charge to the town or event. That group disbanded in 2014, however.

Last year, without the task force or extra officers, an Oakland man attempted to drive his truck even as pedestrians passed in front of him, hitting a person in a wheelchair. Police Chief Shawn O’Leary decided more police coverage was needed after that incident.

“My concern … is for it to be done safely,” Heavener said. “We had a near disaster last year.”

He also mentioned that the fireworks show has outgrown the park, a concern he has brought up at Town Council meetings before.


The estimated cost for this past year at first rose by about $4,000, up to $11,000. The average coverage cost had been $4,000 to $7,000 in the past. The town later revised the price to $8,325 after the committee said it couldn’t afford to stay in Winslow with the first sticker price.

The only other cost that was added, besides extra police officers, was for extra lighting at a crosswalk, Heavener said.

Mike Davis, who owns Mike Davis Entertainment in Winslow and has done sound and lighting for the festival for 20 years, said he thinks the town management does not want the celebration in Winslow.

“If they just say no, they’ll look bad to the people,” he said on the phone Wednesday. So the town is raising the price until the committee is forced to leave, he said.

“As a veteran — there’s the oldest blockhouse in the country. Why wouldn’t you want to celebrate the Fourth of July there?” Davis said.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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