Lexington council considers law limiting when, where fireworks could be lit

it curbs sales, set-off times

bfortune@herald-leader.comSeptember 21, 2011 

After hundreds of people complained that Lexington sounded like a battlefield during the Fourth of July weekend, the city has taken the first steps toward stricter controls on the sale and display of fireworks in Fayette County.

The law department has drafted an ordinance to limit when and where fireworks may be set off. The proposal was discussed Tuesday by the Urban County Council's public safety committee and will remain in committee for 30 days.

Seasonal stands could sell fireworks in Fayette County from June 10 to July 7 under the proposed ordinance.

Fireworks could be set off any day of the year between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., with the exceptions of New Year's Eve, July 3 and 4 and Memorial Day, when the deadline would be midnight.

Individuals would have to be 18 to buy or use fireworks.

Urban County Council members said they received hundreds of complaints this year about the Fourth of July weekend "The times of night was the big issue, and the volume of noise," said council member Kevin Stinnett, who initiated the ordinance.

"This ordinance does not address volume because the state law change allows for louder fireworks," Stinnett said.

Lexington's 911 call center reported 533 general noise complaints from July 1 to 5. That was up from 308 during the holiday weekend last year. A state law approved in March allowed the sale of bottle rockets, mortars and firecrackers in Kentucky.

"We don't want to limit people's enjoyment of those days we have identified in the ordinance," Stinnett said before the meeting. "But what we do want to do is allow a safe place and a safe time in which they can do it, and not infringe upon other people's rights ... so people aren't doing it at all times during the night."

The new state law and the proposed Lexington ordinance dictate that fireworks cannot be ignited within 200 feet of a structure, vehicle or person.

"Inside New Circle Road, I doubt there's more than a handful of properties where you could set off fireworks because of the 200-foot stipulation," Stinnett said.

The law would not affect large fireworks displays at events such as Lexington Legends baseball games or the city's Fourth of July celebration.

Sales of sparklers would not be affected.

Fayette County does not have any law regulating fireworks except for the noise ordinance, city attorney David Barberie said.

Under the proposed ordinance, the penalty for an individual illegally buying or exploding fireworks would be $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and $500 for the third offense in a calendar year.

The new state law allows local governments to regulate the sales and use of fireworks. "Or a city can opt out. It's up to you," Barberie told committee members.

Council member Doug Martin said he was in favor of Lexington banning the sale of fireworks. Martin said he had received many complaints about fireworks from his constituents. "We have the ability to opt out" of selling fireworks, "and I think we should take advantage of that," he said.

Still, surrounding counties allow the sales, Stinnett noted. "You can drive less than one mile across our border and buy them" in Jessamine County or elsewhere.

"People are going to break this law," Stinnett said. "If you have something on the books" to regulate when and where fireworks are sold and where they're shot off, "it's easier to prohibit them than if there is no law on the books."

Martin said it would be difficult for police to track down a person who sets off fireworks in the middle of the night, and such cases would be difficult for the county attorney's office to prosecute. "I think (this ordinance) will be difficult to enforce," he said.

The draft ordinance has been reviewed by the police and fire departments and distributed to the county attorney's office for feedback, Stinnett said. No negative comments have been received, he said.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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