Christmas

Christmas Lights Show for Charity? New Jersey Town Wants Homeowners to Pay $2,000 a Night

The mayor claims it's a "public safety" issue.

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YouTube Screenshot via New Jersey 101.5

For the past 15 years, Thomas and Kris Apruzzi have celebrated the holiday season with a spectacular Christmas lights display at their home in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey. Though the public can see the display for free, the Apruzzis have used the opportunity to raise more than $20,000 in donations for such good causes as Home for Our Troops and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

This year, the local government decided to get involved. The couple was informed they'd "be required to pay at least $2,000-a-day in police [security] and you're also going to have to pay for shuttle bus service for all of the people that are going to come to the display," Thomas tells the New York Post. Thomas says officials implicitly threatened to shut down the display if he and his wife didn't cooperate.

Township Mayor Owen Henry disputes that account of what happened. "We have not told Mr. Apruzzi to shut his light off. We have not and I will not," he tells My Central Jersey, adding that officials "recommended" rather than required that the Apruzzis provide a shuttle service. But Henry does not deny he wants the family to pay up. "We have determined that that additional police resources is going to cost the township of Old Bridge—every taxpayer in Old Bridge—about $2,000 per night," he says. "That is money that is not in our budget."

Henry tells My Central Jersey it's a question of "public safety." The lights display attracts people from around the area—up to 1,000 per night, according to NJ.com—and the town plans to provide police officers to manage crowd control and direct traffic, as well as mobile light posts to light up the street.

Neighbors started complaining about the display after it was featured in 2014 on ABC's The Great Christmas Light Fight, Thomas told New Jersey 101.5 last year. The town has used auxiliary cops in the past to ensure safety, but after more people started complaining last year (when the Apruzzis say they added new features to the display), officials decided to take additional action. Parking and vehicle access will be restricted in the area, and the town is setting up a walkway for pedestrians.

The Apruzzis have also made some compromises. From the start of December through New Year's Day, the display will be on only from Thursdays through Sundays and only for four hours a night. Thomas does plan to put them on every night during the week of Christmas. "It's 16 hours a week and they want to charge us $8,000 a week to direct people and tell them where to walk," he tells My Central Jersey.

Once the holidays are over, the town council will decide whether or not the Apruzzis have to pay up. "We've never waived the fees for a private event; this is a private event," Henry tells ABC News.

But surely that should count in the family's favor, not the town's. The Apruzzis aren't using public property; they're creating something incredible on their own land. It also doesn't sound as though there have been serious safety issues in the past, which raises the question of why a police presence is necessary in the first place. And not that it should be any of the town's business, but the Apruzzis aren't doing this for the money. They've already spent almost $100,000 to create the display, and the money they do receive goes to charity. I certainly understand how the disruption can be annoying to the neighbors, and I'm sure the Apruzzis are imposing real costs here. But the town's response seems excessively expensive and unusually harsh.

Thomas, meanwhile, tells the Post he can't afford to pony up what could end up being tens of thousands of dollars to the township. As a result, the family has started a GoFundMe to raise money for any fees they might have to pay. But they plan to carry on with their yearly tradition no matter what. "This is my First Amendment right," Thomas tells the Post. "I'm a Catholic. I'm very into Christmas. I love Christmas."

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  1. Here’s a thought, asshole mayor. Try just allowing people to figure out how to navigate the world without police assistance in every step of the process. I’ll bet they can figure it out.

    1. Wrecker! Kulak! Enabler!

    2. I’ll bet they can figure it out.

      And those that can’t will avoid it.

    3. >>>I’ll bet they can figure it out.

      dude. New Jersey.

      1. They can’t figure out how to fuel their own cars.

        1. also had to have *the Supreme Court* tell my parents & their buddies to stop letting each other get hammered @dinner-with-neighbors-night then drive home

    4. “Try just allowing people to figure out how to navigate the world without police assistance in every step of the process.”

      You mean- eliminate all that sweet, sweet police OT for doing jack shit?

  2. They spent $100,000 to raise $20,000? Someone needs an economics class.

    1. I think they have spent $100,000 on their pixel system and upgrades total over all the years that they’ve been doing this, which is fifteen. And I presume they have gotten more than $80,000 of personal pleasure out of it. (And if that seems like unreasonable accounting to you, then you, sir, are not an upper-middle-class Italian-American Catholic from New Jersey or Brooklyn.) That is, presumably this did not originate as a fundraising project, but a means to decorate their home. You know, for the holidays. Being festive, Mr. Grinch. The charity was just something they realized as an afterthought when they discovered how incredibly famous and popular they were becoming as a tourist attraction.

    2. It sounds like they have, up to this point, invested 100k. They then get 20k each year, which isn’t a bad return to my ears.

  3. It also doesn’t sound as though there have been serious safety issues in the past, which raises the question of why a police presence is necessary in the first place.

    The cops need more overtime pay because they’re Big Damn Heroes? Also, it’s probably really easy for them to hit their ticket quotas with so many people in the area.

  4. The town has used auxiliary cops in the past to ensure safety,

    Why do I get the sense that the local police union is the instigators.

    Presumably the auxiliary cops are volunteers which means no overtime wages are being paid to real cops.

    1. I’ve never heard of a voluntary auxiliary in central NJ, though they’re not paid much above rent-a-cop rates. I doubt Old Bridge is any different.

      But they could be, because the only positive thing I’ll say about there is it’s not Sayreville.

      1. http://www.oldbridge.com/conte…../6012.aspx

        Seems like unpaid volunteers.

        1. I stand corrected. Seems like a redefinition happened at some point.

          Regardless, this would be handled by the SLEO’s per their own guidelines. And those guys most certainly are paid.

  5. It sounds like this generates a shit ton of vehicle and pedestrian traffic that is beyond the designed capacity of the road.

    So no, it isn’t entirely on private property.

    Would be interesting to know how they collect money.

    If I were a neighbor who spent every December stuck in traffic 3 blocks from my home, I might get a little road ragey.

    Perhaps they could move this display to a location better equipped to handle the traffic?

    1. I think that family that became a YouTube sensation a few years back for its dubstep Christmas lightshows (I especially loved that the dad was clearly an EDM fanatic but did not come across remotely like anyone you’d think would be) eventually switched to decorating the city hall of their suburb under municipal and neighborhood pressure.

      1. Here ya go. Frankly once they moved to the public spaces they kind of sucked.

    2. This isn’t a total injustice, but the sums at play (and the location, tbh: NJ local gov’t has to take a taste before you’re allowed to do much of anything, and many of your neighbors will happily rat you out) and the hardheaded way this is being approached cause me to think it’s retribution by extortion.

      There’s no profit taking here, and minimal non-profit revenue. If the township was interested in keeping it around then they could surely have led with something different than “fuck you, pay me.”

      1. Neighbors were mad about the traffic. Cops were mad about the budget shortfall.

        Time to lash out.

  6. “I’m a Catholic. I’m very into Christmas. I love Christmas.”

    The modern christian: loves Christmas, hates his neighbors.

    1. You just mad ’cause all Hanukkah does is gamble and eat fried foods. Which…fuck, why you mad again?

      1. Too much Manischewitz.

        1. You know, it’s 2018, and there are actually good kosher wines available. Not that you can get any less schnockered on them. But your general point is still valid.

        2. can there *be* too much Manischewitz?

  7. They did the same thing to a guy in Phoenix last year. It was “just a recommendation” but apparently there was some winking and nudging going on because he got the message and shut it down.

    Which, you know, is how it should be. Safety and convenience and keeping the poppies all the right height is the new American way. And anything to distract from the orderly participation in the daily economy just gives the proles the wrong idea.

  8. Alternate headline: “Pissed off neighbors finally find way to make annoying family pay for the externalities they inflict on neighborhood”.

  9. Am I responsible for the reactions of others to my speech? Is this yelling “fire” in a crowded theater?

    1. That would only work if the homeowner had some prima facie claim that altering the facade of his house was a form of speech or worship in the first place. He does not. We might say he has a property right to put up whatever decorations he sees fit on his own property (though even we might balk at an absolute or near-absolute right to lights; this is pretty much a textbook NAP discussion topic). But that is most certainly not how the law sees it. There are towns with infamously tight home appearance laws; at the extreme, Sante Fe even mandates that every single building have the same faux-adobe “Pueblo Revival” or “Spanish Territorial” architecture (so as to not look like “Anytown, USA”). Frankly, Old Bridge could just tell Appruzi FYTW; pay the fee if you want Christmas lights. Their ability to do so does not depend on anyone else’s actions. They are providing an explanation only in an effort to not look like complete dicks to the public.

      1. “Nice little light display you have there … be a shame if anything happened to it”

        yeah, New Jersey.

      2. I would think that a Christian, celebrating Christmas, could portray decorating their house as a form of worship.
        Do any of those towns you mention, with infamously tight home appearance laws, prohibit Christmas lights?
        “…Old Bridge could just tell Appruzi FYTW; pay the fee if you want Christmas lights.
        That would be fine if everyone, who put up Christmas lights, had to pay a fee.

        The fact that any proceeds, probably voluntarily donated, go to charities is evidence that this was not done to attract the crowds. Unless the government can show that the intent of the decorations was to attract the crowds, it would seem that the ones, who gather on the street, should have to pay, not the people celebrating Christmas in this fashion.

  10. My God, New Jersey is a shit hole.

  11. Two K bucks a night sounds like an awful lot of policing.

    1. Can you spell OT?
      How else can these guys force someone to pay for their fat holiday bonus without getting out of their warm cars.
      It’s a much needed fix for a nonexistent problem.

  12. I wonder if some of the funds that they will get from their GoFundMe page will go to pay for their Electric Bill. To have those types of lights going on must cost a fortune.

  13. They should be funding lawyer fees instead, and make it hell for the city for years.

  14. I don’t understand. Most cities, when told something is attracting out-of-town visitors, bend over backwards to fill their hotels and restaurants, and use their gas stations.

    1. It’s just that this town is bending its citizens over forward in order to appear to be bending over backwards.

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