Originally created 12/14/03

Towns strain funds to decorate



BOGART, Ga. - It took a phone call from a stranger to reassure Mayor Pro Tem Jan Thurmond that his city's investment in Christmas decorations had paid off.

After several trips through the tiny Oconee County community, it was only when the town lit up its limits with Christmas lights that the caller even noticed that Bogart existed.

"We're trying to make Bogart look like a happy place to live," Mr. Thurmond said.

For big cities, lighted snowflakes and Santas barely make a dent in the budget.

But for small towns such as Bogart - population 1,049 - financing Christmas decorations proves a more challenging task.

Many are making the effort anyway.

Bogart's city council had long furnished a few decorations for the holidays. But, Mr. Thurmond said, they were dim on Christmas cheer - a few paltry strings of lights lining the streets and a tree that "never fully got lit."

Three years ago, Bogart - with the help of its maintenance and beautification committees - began buying pole decorations and icicle lights to pump up the town's Christmas spirit.

Jan Nelson, the executive director of the downtown development authority in Commerce, said the town has been beefing up its Christmas decoration collection for the past eight years.

The Jackson County town of about 5,000 people sets aside about $2,000 every year for decorations, even though Ms. Nelson said she won't take part in hanging the banners and decorations herself.

"I don't do bucket trucks," she said, referring to the vehicles used to hoist workers high in the air. "I'm 5-foot-1 for a reason."

Not all small towns can afford to show their spirit that way.

In northeast Georgia's Maysville - population 1,247 - the city government doesn't fund any decorations.

But a local community club sponsors Christmas in the Park, a beautification committee that runs a carriage tour of historic homes, and community leader Trent Strickland took it upon himself to start a Christmas banner program.

Other families and local businesses have donated 40 Christmas in Maysville banners to decorate the town.

"It brings us together," Mr. Strickland said.

In the Barrow County community of Bethlehem, a Methodist church sets up a live Nativity scene every year.

"Especially our town, with the name of Bethlehem, people like to come here and just see if we have decorations," city clerk Joyce Hogan said.