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New Year’s Eve fireworks, Murray River Splash festival cancelled for 2023-24
Fire, finances and shifting priorities have prompted the Murray Bridge council to cancel two annual events that have brought thousands to town over recent summers.
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Murray Bridge will not get a New Year’s Eve celebration or a Murray River Splash festival this summer.
The city’s council voted on Monday night to cancel both events, for a range of reasons.
Most significant was the high fire danger expected this summer.
Any fireworks display held on December 31 risked being cancelled if the conditions were too hot and dry, or if on-duty firefighters were called away to a job elsewhere.
Fireworks events were not able to be insured for that reason, council CEO Heather Barclay said; if the show were cancelled, ratepayers would be left holding the $70,000 bill.
Other factors included the high cost of New Year’s Eve events versus events at other times of the year, since every event company was busy that night; the fact that many vendors and fireworks providers would have been booked out already; and the limited capacity of the council’s events team to take on the extra work required.
It was not just the fireworks that had been cancelled, though, Ms Barclay confirmed – the council would not organise any New Year’s Eve celebration this year.
It would also skip the annual Murray River Splash festival, which would usually provide activities for children at Sturt Reserve on weekends throughout January.
Instead, the Murray Bridge council will focus on four other major events for 2023-24:
The Tour Down Under on January 19
A Murray Bridge Fringe street party in February or March
A second Murray River Glows festival next winter
A new event in one of the smaller townships in the Murray Bridge district
The Glows festival debuted in June of this year as a replacement for last summer’s New Year’s Eve event, which had to be cancelled because of the River Murray floods.
Council staff argued that the winter event had provided a much greater return on investment: more than $19 worth of economic activity per ratepayer dollar spent, versus less than $5 for NYE.
Next year’s Murray Bridge Fringe street party is likely to be slimmed down as a result of the changes in the event program, as its budget was also reduced.
But Ms Barclay said a final form for that event had not yet been decided upon.
She denied that the event program had been revised due to recent staff changes in the council’s events team, or any redirection of funding to other areas.
“It has a lot to do with the size of the events team and the existing events program the council already has,” she said.
“(New Year’s Eve and the Splash festival) aren’t the only events the council does – we have Australia Day and many others.”
Mayor’s call decided a deadlocked council vote
There might not be fireworks on the riverfront this summer, but there were plenty in the Murray Bridge council chamber on Monday night as councillors debated whether to cancel the two summer events.
Mayor Wayne Thorley had to use his vote to decide the issue after councillors tied 4-4.
Councillors had originally decided to cut the city’s major events budget back in July, as they aimed to limit this year’s property rates increase to 6.9 per cent.
However, staff did not propose cancelling the New Year’s Eve event until October 9.
Councillors Andrew Baltensperger, Fred Toogood, Clem Schubert and Tom Haig lobbied for an extra $50,000 or more to be found to organise the event, but were unsuccessful.
That was a shame, Cr Baltensperger said.
“This New Year’s Eve event has become iconic to so many people,” he said.
“Anyone who has regularly attended … can’t fail to be impressed by the community spirit and town pride prominently displayed.
“It’s a brief respite from the worries of this crazy world.”
It also promoted road safety by encouraging people to stay in the district instead of driving to Mannum, Victor Harbor or Adelaide late at night.
New Year’s Eve event might come back in 2024
On the bright side, this week’s decision does not mean both summer events will be dumped forever.
Councillors will re-assess whether to bring them both back as they develop the council’s budget for 2024-25.
In the meantime, Ms Barclay encouraged residents to consider attending two other upcoming events which would feature fireworks.
A sky show will form part of the Murray Bridge Riverfront Christmas Festival on November 18, and there will be a fireworks show at Mannum for New Year’s Eve on December 31.
Disclosure: In previous years, the Murray Bridge council has paid the author to perform music at its New Year’s Eve events.