NJ mayor says home’s Christmas lights would cost police $2,000 a night
OLD BRIDGE — As a local homeowner works to raise $75,000 to hold an annual Christmas light display, the mayor said Wednesday that the cost of the show has been wildly exaggerated and that the township wants to help the show go on.
Mayor Owen Henry called into our sister station (New Jersey 101.5's "Dennis & Judy" program) on Wednesday morning, saying that he was "taking a little bit of a beating" from the controversy surrounding the costs, but also noting that there was "a lot of misinformation out there."
Henry said the $70,000 price tag is the biggest misconception, explaining that police costs would amount to $2,000 a night. He also said the issue wasn't about money but public safety.
"I want this event to continue, but if it does it has to be done in a safe and orderly manner," he told Dennis Malloy.
In a separate interview with New Jersey 101.5, Henry said that while he has heard estimates of 2,500 people a night at the event, he does believes the actual number is significantly less. He also said that the township has a mass gathering ordinance for events with more than 1,000 people at a time, which he does not believe the Apruzzi light show qualifies for at this time.
Under the terms of the ordinance, any event expected to have more than 1,000 people would need a license issued by the municipal clerk. The ordinance also includes a requirement for at least one security guard, either an off-duty officer or a private guard to be provided per each 750 people at the event.
The mayor said the event has gotten bigger and more popular over the years, which has brought more people and traffic to the area. He said police reported issues with crowd control and other problems on six of the 22 nights the light show took place last year. According to a Facebook page for the show, it was shut down earlier than usual due to technical difficulties on New Year's Eve.
While he did not specify a number, the mayor said Thomas Apruzzi, who puts on the show, was told what the cost of having police at the event would be, noting that it would cost around $2,000 per night. The show is supposed to start on Saturday, and if the lights ran every night of the month and into New Year's Day as it normally would, it would cost at least $60,000.
The Facebook page for the event said it ran Wednesday to Sunday last year. If it kept that schedule this year it would be open for approximately 24 days, at a cost of $48,000 without figuring in the cost of a shuttle.
A GoFundMe page established by Apruzzi to help with the costs said part of the money would be used for a shuttle service, which Henry said the town did not require, but was suggested by the show's organizers. Henry said the $2,000 would pay for four officers per night, in addition to potential additional resources like special officers or auxiliary officers. In addition to the cost of police officers, the GoFundMe estimated it would cost around $1,000 a night for the shuttle.
Assuming the show goes on, the mayor said he has worked with the police department to make sure the event is as safe as possible. Working in conjunction with Chief William Volkert, parking will be limited on streets near the show. Half of the street will be used for parking and half will be used "for pedestrian safe passage behind cones." Henry said one of the most important things for him is that emergency vehicles have access to the site of the show and the surrounding streets.
"It's a pretty long stretch," he said. "If we had a 911 call and that ambulance or fire truck or police vehicle was delayed by 30 seconds it's a long time if you're choking or you're having a stroke."
Whatever the final cost for police presence at the show is, Henry said it is ultimately up to the Township Council to determine how much the town would get reimbursed for the officers.
Apruzzi did not respond to a message seeking comment.