Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
On Monday, March 7, 2016, Gardner City Council approved the initial step to begin developing land east of I-35 on 175th street and approved Ordinance 2513, lifting the ban of fireworks sales and discharge within city limits.
In a unanimous vote, council approved resolution of a funding agreement with Day3 LLC and VanTrust Real Estate.
The funding for 175th St. agreement includes $50,000 designated to pay for certain expenses that will be incurred during the early stages of development. Those expenses include administrative fees, professional fees, studies from third party consultants and other costs that may be required.
The developers are asking the city to consider incentives of a tax increment financing district, community improvement district and industrial revenue bonds or sales tax exemptions on construction materials.
Steve Shute, city council president remarked “this is a historic date for Gardner” and added “We are absolutely thrilled to  have Day3’s partnership in this venture.”
Fireworks ban lifted; sales, discharge regulated
James Pruetting, Gardner police chief, addressed council on the existing ban on sale and discharge of fireworks in Gardner city limits.
Pruetting explained why city staff recommended the fireworks ban be kept in place. Among those reasons were the negative effects fireworks often have on individuals who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and autism.
Nick Wright, police officer and a veteran of the Iraq war, spoke about the effects fireworks are known to have on veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Wright explained the sounds and sulfur smell of burnt gunpowder can “take you back.”
Fireworks often trigger episodes of PTSD, forcing combat veterans to re-live traumatic war experiences. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, up to 20 percent of military personnel who served in Iraq or Afghanistan experience PTSD each year. That rate rises if you add in Vietnam vets.
Pruetting then introduced Jennifer Smith, a lifelong Gardner resident and mother of two autistic children. She serves as executive director of The Autism Society of the Heartland and received a Midwest Regional EMMY award for the film Just Like You – Autism.
Smith’s autistic children are now 21 and 22 years old. She is very familiar with the “high anxiety,” fear and disorientation many autistic persons suffer when exposed to fireworks. Difficulties can last many days spanning through the 4th of July season, as people shoot fireworks off in the neighborhood.
It can cause autistic children to panic. They may refuse to eat or be unable to sleep. It may trigger seizures, she said. Her children use headphones and other methods to try and deal with the 4th holiday but they can’t go outside… and become prisoners in their own home.
“We have over a thousand students in USD 231 that receive special services from the special education department,” said Smith.
Smith also said she had contacted her insurance company, who told her that homeowners insurance rates were likely to go up if the ban was removed.
She concluded by saying, “It is a safety issue first and that one person’s celebration could cause another person suffering.”
Pruetting followed up with suggestions of date restrictions on sales and use – if council did decide to lift the ban. It was recommended that, if the ban was lifted, shooting fireworks be allowed only on July 3rd and 4th.
He also discussed the permitting process for sales, before again stating that city staff recommended keeping the ban in place.
Public comment was then invited.
The first public comment was for lifting the ban, but it was stated that if it wasn’t lifted, then enforcement of violators should be stronger.
The second comments came from a group of three who currently sell fireworks in Edgerton and Spring Hill. They lobbied for the ban to be lifted.
Following public comments, the police chief was asked about the effectiveness of the current ban. He conceded that this was the most violated ordinance, but said it still reduces risks. He also noted that injuries happen more often to the most vulnerable – children and bystanders.
Steve Shute, council president, said he thought most cities with populations of more than 20,000 did not allow fireworks.
Pruetting said that only three towns in Johnson County do allow it.
Kristy Harrison, council member, said, “This is one of those things that, when people talk about their child with autism or PTSD, it’s easy to sit up here and say, ‘well they’re not the majority so it’s OK’. Because we’re not the ones dealing with that. It’s just human nature… (to think) hey it’s not my problem”
Lee Moore replied, “It doesn’t matter if you have PTSD or autism, you’re going to experience fireworks in this city.”
Harrison was the only vote against, as the council, by a vote of 4-1, approved Ordinance 2513 which lifts the ban but regulates use and sales.
Public comments were made by several citizens during the Gardner City Council’s fireworks discussion at the March 7 meeting.  The fireworks ban was lifted, although the new ordinance establishes some regulations. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz

Public comments were made by several citizens during the Gardner City Council’s fireworks discussion at the March 7 meeting. The fireworks ban was lifted, although the new ordinance establishes some regulations. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz

SWJEDC annual funding approved
Next, Greg Martinette, president of Southwest Johnson County Economic Development Corporation, addressed the council to describe benefits and services provided by his organization.
Martinette explained a restructuring of the organization’s executive committee would now include the Gardner and Edgerton mayors.
Gardner and Edgerton pay the same $35,000 membership fee. Rich Melton, council member, said he believed Gardner was not equally represented on the SWJCED websites in comparison to Edgerton and New Century AirCenter.
Melton questioned other fees and expenses paid to SWJCEDC, including some associated with an expo for area business executives to get acquainted with city representatives.
“We can do things on our own, even as council members or the Mayor and facilitate leads to get businesses here,” Melton said.
Ed York, market president at Arvest Bank, told the council, “You may think you can do the deals privately on yourself, behind closed doors but the Sunshine laws will just break you up as quickly as possible.”
“Private businesses do not trust city management or city government. When you’re trying to do a deal, you want to talk to someone who’s on your side, that’ll come and represent you,” York said. “That relationship building… it’s people doing business with people who have relationships – (that) $35,000 is invaluable to you.”
“If we pull out of SWJCEDC, it would send a really, really negative message about where we’re headed,” Lee Moore, council member, said.
Chris Morrow, Gardner mayor, said “If we don’t have a relationship with EDC like this, that’s going to cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars to self perform the same stuff.”
Council concluded the topic with a 4-1 vote to approve continuing the relationship with Southwest Johnson County Economic Development Corporation. Melton was the ‘no’ vote.
In other business:
Council heard reports from Jeff Stewart, parks and recreation director, reviewing Gardner Golf Course options and summarizing the town hall meeting, from Brian Faust, public works director, on streets and sidewalks and from Larry Powell, business and economic development director, summarizing the town hall meeting on RV and Boat parking.