Tighter Budgets Curtail New Year's Celebrations

New Year's Eve festivities have been scaled back or canceled in many communities around the country this year, with tight budgets and sparse sponsorship replacing security as the top concern.

First Night parties, family-oriented festivities that emphasize the arts, will be held in 139 cities this year, 21 fewer than last year, said Naima Kradjian, president of First Night International.

"Individuals aren't giving as much," Kradjian said. "There's also corporate support that has not been as free-flowing as it has in recent years. A lot of communities are doing more with less, but it certainly hasn't cut back the enthusiasm."

In Mobile, Ala., the First Night celebration will forgo fireworks after last year's $160,000 budget was trimmed to less than $100,000. Many contributors said they could not afford to donate, event director Chris Smith said.

In Brunswick, Ga., the traditional shrimp drop -- a 9-foot papier-mache shrimp dropped into a 10-foot-high satellite dish "cocktail glass" -- won't splash down for the first time since 1996. Merchants voted to support the town's Christmas parade instead.

"This year my wife and I will stay home and eat shrimp," said Bryan Thompson, executive director of Brunswick's Downtown Development Authority. "We tap the same poor bankers -- we have great corporate partners -- but they get hit by everyone."

Despite the money concerns, some cities are adding celebrations this year after skipping them last year in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

First Night returns to St. Louis, where dancers can tango, disco or swing until a midnight fireworks show. Still, Kelly Webber, the event's executive director, said fund-raising was a challenge.

Many event directors said that security would remain at levels seen in previous years, but that security personnel might be in plainclothes or behind the scenes.

Carl Monzo, owner of National Event Services in Philadelphia, which provides medical and security personnel at public events, said tight security measures such as personal searches will be less frequent.

"I think generally people have become -- I don't want to say a little more complacent -- but we went from a low ground (security-wise) to a high ground and now we're in back in the middle," he said.

In New York's Times Square, the fireworks display canceled last year will resume for this year's $1 million celebration. Police officals said undercover officers would be interspersed throughout the crowd and snipers would be put on rooftops.