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Council rejects change in fireworks ordinance
September 29, 2011 Jerry Purvis   
Gering’s fireworks ordinance will remain unchanged because council members declined to bring the issue to a vote.

After several ad hoc meetings between council members and the public over the past few months, a recommendation was made to the Public Safety Committee to change the current ordinance. Currently, the sale and discharge of fireworks is allowed within the city for 10 days prior to July 4. The revised ordinance would have cut the number of days in half.

The new ordinance read: “It shall be unlawful to light, ignite or discharge any fireworks before 12 p.m. and after 10 p.m., during the period of June 30 to July 4, except that on July 4 fireworks can be lit, ignited or discharged between 12 p.m. and 12 a.m.”

Council member Julie Morrison said those for and against cutting the number of days needs to come to a compromise. “I don’t want to hear again our rights have been taken away. People on both sides are passionate about this and we need to find a solution everyone can live with.”

Gering Mayor Ed Mayo said that e-mails he’s received from the public were almost evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the ordinance change.

Council member Don Christensen said changing the ordinance would only make the noise problem worse. Under the new ordinance, fireworks can be sold for the 10 days prior to July 4, but cannot be discharged until June 30. People with a stockpile of fireworks would be igniting more of them over a shorter period of time.

The council chamber was nearly full as 14 people also expressed their concerns to council members. Fireworks vendor Greg Trautman, who attended some of the committee meetings, said he doesn’t believe shortening the number days is the way to deal with the problem.
“We’re opening up a can of worms for our police department to try to enforce,” Trautman said. “It will also be difficult because the ordinance is different than Scottsbluff. If you can buy fireworks for 10 days but can’t ignite them, people are just going to be confused.”

The current city ordinance mirrors state law regulating the sale and discharge of fireworks. Gerald Wilcox, another fireworks vendor, said a change would be taking away his rights under state statute.
Justin Allred presented a document to council members containing 288 signatures, 82 percent of them favoring no change in the ordinance. “I was told by council members we need to compromise, but I don’t see any compromising when everything’s being taken away from those in favor of fireworks,” Allred said. “Why would we want to take business out of our town?”

Gering resident and Vietnam veteran Lloyd Heine spoke on behalf of many veterans when he said the 10-day period of fireworks discharge isn’t popular with many veterans who served in combat zones.

Robin Kinney said it comes down to a responsible use issue. “If unsupervised kids are shooting off fireworks, fine the parents. We need to enforce the laws we already have on the books. Please
encourage people to be responsible before you start eliminating what they can do.”

Gering resident Judy Hoxworth said the original complaints about fireworks were because society in general lacks the ability to see another’s point of view. “For a lot of people, those 10 days are a living nightmare,” she said.

Council member Jill McFarland said she takes the discussion seriously as she’s trying to do the best for her constituents. “What I’ve found out is that most people will tolerate the fireworks noise if it doesn’t go on for 10 days. At least in my ward, people want a change.”

After almost an hour of discussion, council voted to call the question and end discussion. McFarland then made a motion to adopt the new ordinance that would shorten the number of days fireworks could be discharged.

After a second to the motion was asked for twice, no other council member would offer the second. Consequently, the ordinance died without a vote and the current 10-day fireworks ordinance will remain in place.

In a later e-mail to the Citizen, McFarland wrote: “I continue to believe that I attempted to provide a solution that would serve the entire community – not just one specific group. I suspect the firework vendors actively lobbied the council and ultimately the well-being of the community in total was disregarded. I feel very strongly that we, as elected officials, are expected to represent our constituents, and I don’t think that happened in this instance.

The last thing we should want is government tailored to the needs of the minority. I do want to commend those folks who came forward and attempted to cause a change to occur. Unfortunately, events such as this only serve to discourage the community from bringing issues forward or running for council.”

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