Ahwatukee Foothills' annual Festival of Lights will be a little less bright this year because of budget cutbacks attributed to the economic downturn, but organizers are expecting just as many people as ever.

The budget for this year's event has shrunk to $65,000, down from $83,000 last year, said Dixie Prosser, the Festival of Lights' executive director. The cutbacks mean that clusters of lights normally hung high in the trees, necessitating the use of cherry-picker trucks and permits to close off lanes of traffic during the work, will be eliminated this year, she said.

"Getting rid of those saves us like $20,000," Prosser said.

This year marks the event's 15th anniversary. Each year, organizers string white lights on much of the larger vegetation growing in the medians along Chandler Boulevard between 24th Street and Desert Foothills Parkway.

"We call it the mile of a million lights," Prosser said. "For the most part, everything else is staying. You'll still see them on the trunks of the trees, on the saguaros and on the ocotillos."

The lights remain up from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. The kick-off party on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, in Desert Foothills Park, southwest of Desert Foothills Parkway and Chandler Boulevard, includes a carnival, beer garden, art vendors' fair and other entertainment, Prosser said.

Sponsorship and donations are down this year because of the anemic economy, she said. The Ahwatukee Foothills News is among the event's sponsors.

"Obviously we've lost a lot of sponsorships, just like everybody else has lost a lot in the last couple of years. We've lost a lot of those individual Realtors and real estate companies," she said. "As the times are, people have to pick and choose where to donate, if they're going to donate at all."

The festival - Ahwatukee's largest community event - is expected to attract about 15,000 people, Prosser said. To volunteer, visit www.folaz.org.

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