After 90 minutes of discussion the evening of Aug. 24, Gering’s ad-hoc citizens committee on fireworks was only able to agree on some general suggestions to forward to the city’s Public Safety Committee.
The committee was formed after numerous citizens complained about people ignoring the current ordinances regulating the discharge of fireworks over the Fourth of July holiday.
The committee did identify five areas where the current ordinances could be adjusted. Blocked streets and unsupervised children were identified as public safety issues. Nuisance factors included fireworks debris, time limits on discharge and the impact on other people.
Several people on the committee said fireworks noise was disruptive to both pets and people’s daily lives, especially those whose work schedules have them sleeping during the day. That group favored reducing the number of days from 10 to four when fireworks could be discharged.
But others on the committee wanted to keep the current ordinance, and state law, allowing for 10 days of fireworks, ending at midnight on July 4.
Mayors Randy Meininger of Scottsbluff and Kent Greenwalt of Terrytown were also in attendance. Greenwalt said since they receive their police protection from Scottsbluff, they would go along with whatever Scottsbluff decided to do. Meininger said that Scottsbluff wouldn’t make any changes without actual data to show a need.
Gering Fire Chief Jay Templar pointed out that unless all three cities agreed to the same ordinances, enforcement would be difficult. However, he did say that limiting the number of days won’t reduce the number of complaints his department receives.
Committee chair Jill McFarland favors reducing the number of days for fireworks purchase and discharge to four. She admitted she was surprised the committee was so divided on the number of days. She supposed the committee was thinking in more general terms, rather than specific suggestions.
Opinions on the committee were just as divided. Member Jim Engler said he conducted an informal survey in which 82 people said they wanted fireworks days reduced to four.
However, fireworks vendor Greg Trautman said a recent Facebook survey identified 152 people who wanted no change to the current ordinance.
McFarland said that survey results can be skewed unless the city hires a third party to conduct it. Others said that options such as sending out surveys with city water bills would also end up with skewed results.
As for enforcement, Gering Police Chief Mel Griggs said it’s tricky because unless an officer sees someone committing a violation, they can’t be cited. But he did say that two officers on bicycle could patrol the city for the entire 10-day period for a cost of $1,500 to the city.
Committee members agreed that many violations happen because people aren’t aware of the ordinances. Trautman said he could help with signage and flyers handed out to people when they purchase fireworks. He also supported cutting the number of hours fireworks could be discharged during the day. The new hours would be from noon to 10 p.m. and midnight on July 4.
McFarland said the committee “wimped out” in not taking a definite position on whether to scale back the number of days from 10 to four. That will be an issue for discussion at a future meeting of the city’s Public Safety Committee. That meeting, to be announced, will be open to the public for additional citizen comment.
McFarland added the city’s decision on the fireworks issue will be a benchmark. Then if more complaints come in next year, the city will know what changes need to be made.