By Tony E. Windsor

Citing concerns for public health and safety, the town of Laurel has made the decision to cancel its annual Fourth of July celebration. According to a statement released by the town on Wednesday, April 29, “After much conversation, consideration, discussion, and based on the continued increase in COVID-19 cases in Sussex County and the likelihood that the social distancing will be required through summer, the Mayor and Council of Laurel and Town Manager [Jamie] Smith have agreed that it is in the best interest to cancel the traditional July 4th Celebration and fireworks display.”

Shown is a scene in Market Street Park in Laurel during last year’s Fourth of July celebration. This year’s event has been canceled due to concerns over COVID-19. Star File Photo

The town also concluded that attempting to host the community celebration would also create a hardship on those local businesses already hurt economically by the COVID-19 crisis. “The success of the Fourth of July Celebration is dependent on the support and donations from our local businesses and businesses within our surrounding area. It is unfair to ask and expect donations for the ‘best fireworks display on the Eastern Shore’ from businesses sponsors and general public who are struggling financially during this time,” the statement read.

The town is planning to see the Fourth of July event return next year. “We plan to resume this community uplifting event with a bigger bang than ever in 2021. The health and safety of the Laurel community and surrounding communities is our top priority. This as well as the ability for our businesses and public to be able to recover from this evolving situation. We have kept all those things in mind and at the forefront of all decisions that have been, and are being, made during this unprecedented situation.”

Since last month, when the state began to take restrictive measures to combat the threat of COVID-19, including social distancing, the town of Laurel has made similar adjustments. According to Town Manager Smith, all town buildings are closed to the public, however, all services are still being provided.  “We have a walk-up window where individuals can pay utilities, taxes, obtain building permits, and pay fines,” she said. “We are also working town staff on a rotation-type schedule. This allows each staff member to have limited weekly schedules.”

Last week, the Laurel Mayor and Council held its regularly scheduled public meeting via Zoom Meetings. Smith said meetings for the town would be limited to those that are necessary.

There have also been some town business items delayed and rescheduled for later dates. Smith said the Alderman’s Court has rescheduled trials and “call of the calendar” to later into the year.  “Once the state courts begin to operate and allow the public in, we will too,” she said. Annual rental inspections are also being delayed until later this year.

Smith said the decision to cancel the upcoming Fourth of July celebration was difficult and came only after “weeks of discussions.” The announcement was met with the lion’s share of those expressing opinions feeling this was a wise move and understandable at the time of the COVID- 19 crisis.

However, there were those who did not necessarily agree with the decision and Smith did not challenge their questioning of the decision while working at her job in Town Hall. However, in an effort to help people understand the rationale behind the move to cancel the July Fourth event, Smith shared a post on social media while at home.

“I know many are upset, or will be upset, about the Fourth of July Festival in Laurel being cancelled,” she wrote. “This event is a huge event for our town, bringing in thousands of people from all over. The town staff works very hard planning and working the event. Many, many hours are put in and the decision to cancel the event was not made easily. The last thing I, or the Mayor and Council, wanted to do was cancel this event.”

Smith said it had been hoped that during the early announcements about COVID-19, that the crisis may have gotten much better by early summer; however, this began to look less likely as time went on and cases of the virus increased, as did the number of deaths. Citing the impact that COVID-19 has had on small businesses, Smith said it is small businesses and local donations that contribute the most to help pay for things including the fireworks display that costs an estimated $20,000.

“These generous businesses are barely hanging on, being open only when they can, to provide services to us. Many of them unfortunately are closed, going without an income to help them sustain the costs that they will still incur,” Smith wrote. “So whether you agree or disagree that this decision was the right decision, or speak negatively towards the decision that was made, think about all I have said and think about the hardship these businesses are currently going through. Think about what they have given all these years to help make our event a success. Think about how we can help them out during this time, so that next year, just maybe, they have recovered enough to help us out again. At that time, we can have one of the best fireworks display and Fourth of July events around.”

Smith said it is understandable that many people may be disappointed; however, the current health crisis has been extremely hard to adjust to in many ways. “It is ok to be sad about the event being cancelled, or disappointed, even mad if you want, but think about the entire picture of what is included in planning an event,” she said. “Most importantly, let’s put some of that energy into positive thoughts and prayers or whatever you choose, that these businesses that have generously given to us in the past are able to fully recover.”