Lynne Hermansen
Special to The Gardner News
A fireworks ordinance was approved at the Aug. 16 city council meeting. Along the way, members discussed purchasing noise cancelling headphones, holding a special ballot election, hiring more police officers to enforce the ordinance and having another survey and further discussion.
The new ordinance changed the dates and times for discharging fireworks to July 2, 3 and 4 from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. every year.
The prior ordinance established July 3, 4 and 5 from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. for fireworks discharge dates and times.
The original proposed ordinance included adding December 31 from 11:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. and January 1 from 12 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. for the New Year’s Eve holiday.
Mark Baldwin, council member, said he wanted to see it decoupled from the ordinance as a separate ordinance voted on at a later date after further discussion.
“Only a few contacted about New Year’s Eve,” he said. “And since I have a captive audience maybe we can send a new survey out about New Year’s Eve.”
Steve Shute, mayor, said he also hadn’t seen much clamoring for New Year’s.
Amy Nasta, deputy city administrator, presented survey results at the August 2 city council meeting. She had shared the results that over 3,000 residents wanted fireworks allowed in city limits.
Cheryl Markey, resident, said during public comments if the ordinance allowed for residents to shoot guns off in the air as she had safety concerns.
“I thought I heard guns shooting in the neighborhood and was wondering if it was legal,” she said.
Shute said it was prohibited through Johnson County laws.
Deena Kincaid, fireworks stand manager and Gardner resident, said she had other issues with another tent last month and had to call the police twice because people were shooting off five to 10 feet outside the tent.
“One fell over into the tent,” she said. “Fortunately not a big one, but I had YouTube video visions of everything blowing up in a flame of glory.”
Kincaid said the public would also try to discharge fireworks in the old Price Chopper parking lot but they were able to shoo them off.
“Council member Kacy was eating ice cream at the ice cream place the night it happened,” she said. “I would like somewhere permitting you can’t shoot that close because it wasn’t safe.”
Dave Knopick, development director, said during council updates that the public events code addresses the distance of discharging near tents in two different places for residents and fireworks businesses.
It has to be at least 100 ft away if you are the public and if you are a vendor you’re not allowed,” he said.
Shute said he hadn’t realized when he had heard the reports last month that it had been adults discharging fireworks in the tent and not kids.
Randy Gregorcyk, council member, said he was for fireworks but common sense fireworks. “It’s important to listen to both sides and I value the survey,” he said.
Gregorcyk said he wanted to know what the next step going forward would be. “How do we get people who don’t have access to a computer to participate,” he said.
Gregorcyk said 3,000 responses out of 22,000 residents wasn’t substantial. “There is a portion that feel disenfranchised,” he said.
Gregorcyk said that a portion do have access and a portion of the community doesn’t have access to an online survey. “Discussing is paramount to how we can do better in the future,” he said.
Jim Pruetting, city administrator, said the survey was a snapshot and the most efficient way to gather community input. “There is a margin of error with people who don’t have access to a computer,” he said. “It costs money to mail.”
Shute said the only way cost wise to capture more community input would be to have a mail ballot election.
“You have to have the will of the people,” he said. “It would be more reliable than an internet survey.”
Gregorcyk said he wasn’t speaking on the will of the people. “How do we know what the rest of them want,” he said.
Gregorcyk said maybe the city could put out a survey with the utility bill since all residents pay utilities and he wanted to get more people involved.
Todd Winters, council president, said it was too late in the year with the November election coming up.
Pruetting said a special election would have to be held, and they are quite expensive.
Winters said he felt 3,000 people was actually a big response for a survey, and Shute said he didn’t think people were gaming the system.
Kacy Deaton, council member, said someone would have to count and tally all the paper surveys.
“That’s a lot,” she said. “You could put a notification in the bill so they know they need to go to the library or a friend’s house for a computer.”
Deaton said she wanted to address fireworks owner Kincaid’s tent discharging concerns.
“If someone is a habitual offender we don’t issue a permit again,” she said.
Ryan Denk, city attorney, said no citations had been written that night just simply reports had been received.
The Gardner Police Department received 28 calls for service on fireworks in 2021; no tickets were issued, but 31 warnings were.
“To take action you have procedural due process issues,” he said. “You could set up a system and write into code to have the permit revoked or not issued next time around but you have to have procedural due process.”
Deaton said it was just something for the city to explore.
Gregorcyk said he thought tent permits were first come first serve, and there had been 10 tents this year.
“There are a number of seats on the bus, and there should be wiggle room to say sorry bus is filled,” he said.
Pruetting said everyone that came in that met requirements got a permit, but they could limit the permits issued.
Shute said there had to be due process, and they couldn’t just deny a permit.
Winters said he loved fireworks but there had to be limits. “The biggest complaints are people who go outside the times and days,” he said. “We need to focus on the trouble days and times and put some teeth into that.”
James Belcher, police chief, said he was visiting procedures and having conversations with staff.
“The obstacles are it’s not as simple as you think,” he said. “You’re trying to figure out who, what house and a bunch of people are saying I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it,” he said.
Belcher said having limited officers that other emergencies also took more precedence over fireworks violations during the beginning of July.
“July 4 is a busy night,” he said. “Other calls take priority.”
Winters said officers hide in trees along Missouri rivers to pull people over but he didn’t know if they had to go to those extremes.
Belcher said he had officers in the past for fireworks patrols, and they never had to make second visits, and they are also aware of particular hotspots. “I don’t like zero tolerance policy because you take away discretion,” he said.
Belcher said as hot of a topic as the fireworks had become they were sitting down as staff for discussions on how to move forward next year.
Winters said they should try to find creative ways to accommodate residents who suffer from the fireworks.
Providing noise cancelling headphones and calming devices for animals were a few suggestions.
“Maybe something through public works and the accessibility committee,” he said.
Shute said he liked Winters out of the box thinking. “We would have to talk to the disability community to see what works,” he said.
Gregorcyk said the challenge between now and the is to find the revenues to hire officers.
“We need to find revenues to do jobs and do them safely,” he said.
Gregorcyk said it was a linchpin for him.
“What other revenue streams can be looked at that don’t effect the mill rate and taxpayers,” he said.
Shute said hiring officers was a cumulative expense.