The current Newton ordinance allows fireworks to be used from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on July 4th, and from 9 a.m. December 31st to 12:30 a.m. New Year’s Day.
At-Large Council Member Evelyn George asked the rest of the city council to consider a complete fireworks ban in July. She says residents complained that their neighbors shot off fireworks without any consideration of the impact on them. She says they are concerned that the fireworks were shot off right next to their property and some had property damage. “And when you chose to live in a city and we have this many people — you do have to respect each others rights. That’s why my brother lives on an acreage, because he doesn’t want to have restrictions,” George says.
Newton Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik has consistently spoke in favor of an in-town fireworks ban. “I’ve made the statement before that lighting something on fire, letting it fly away and explode is not a good idea. And in the close quarters of a community it’s even a worse idea,” Wellik says.
Police Chief Rob Burdess has reported complaints about fireworks were down this past July compared to last year, which was the first year firework sales and use were legal in Iowa. Complaints went from 43 in the first year to 19 last year. The police chief says officers are still dealing with the same issues: firework use outside the allowed times, fireworks being discharged from cars in the street and on sidewalks, debris falling on other people’s property damaging cars and houses, and children shooting off fireworks unsupervised.
One resident spoke out against the fireworks ban last night. Jeff Farver says the ban doesn’t make sense. “The numbers go down, we have less problems, but now we’re banning it,” Farver says, “and I just need help understanding why.” Farver says he may be unusual — but he enjoyed listening to the fireworks. He says he does understand some of the concern about the safety issues, but says a ban goes too far.
“If you are talking about a danger –I mean there’s all kinds of things that are dangerous,” according to Farver. “You could go down the list. You could probably outlaw lawnmowers, get rid of real Christmas trees because they burn. There’s all kinds of things you could put out there and ban if you want to start doing it.”
Councilman Mark Hallam offered a couple of compromise proposals that would change the hours when fireworks could be shot off and both failed on 4-2 council votes. Councilman Craig Trotter offered a proposal that would limit the size of fireworks that could be shot off. “So we keep the bottle rockets, we keep maybe the Roman candles, the small stuff that you can shoot off and still have a good time celebrating. But I can agree that shooting off the big stuff may be too much. But I can’t vote for the ban I hear too many people who want it,” Trotter said. Trotter’s proposal also failed on a four to two vote.
The council must hold two more readings on the ordinance before it will pass. Those readings are on December 3rd and December 17th. Newton Mayor Mike Hansen is encouraging citizens to call their council representative and let them know what they think about the ban on fireworks. State law says cities and counties must allow the sale of fireworks — but they are allowed to set their own stipulations on when and if fireworks can be used.
(By Randy Van, KCOB, Newton)