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."