Committee approves proposal to ban loud, explosive fireworks in Lexington

jkegley@herald-leader.comAugust 21, 2012 

  • fireworks complaints

    The number of complaints about fireworks called in to police and firefighters in the last six years:

    2007 301

    2008 262

    2009 249

    2010 323

    2011 897

    2012 (to date) 2,187

Fayette County residents will no longer be allowed to buy or set off aerial fireworks such as bottle rockets and mortars, or loud explosives such as firecrackers, if a new ordinance moves forward.

The proposal, which was presented by Councilman Tom Blues on Tuesday afternoon during the Urban County Council's Public Safety Committee meeting, would subject those who set off powerful fireworks in Fayette County to stiffer fines than what currently is on the books. The new penalties would range from $250 for a first offense to $1,000 for a third offense.

Under the new ordinance, so-called novelty fireworks such as fountains, sparklers and smoke bombs would still be legal.

Nine members of the Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to send the ordinance to the full council for a vote.

Councilmembers Diane Lawless, Bill Farmer, Julian Beard, Chuck Ellinger, Jay McChord, Kevin Stinnett, Peggy Henson, Doug Martin and Chris Ford all voted in favor of the new ordinance. The full council will have to vote it into law.

If the ordinance passes, it would take effect immediately, superseding an ordinance put into effect late last year that limited the days and times aerial fireworks and firecrackers could be detonated.

"I think it's time for the council, unfortunately with a heavy fist this time, to put a stop to this," Stinnett said.

The sale and use of the explosives has been a contentious issue in Lexington since 2011, when the state's General Assembly passed a law allowing local governments to regulate the sale and use of high-powered fireworks.

Council members said hundreds of constituents contacted them, asking for restrictions.

Beard said he recently heard from a woman who was almost in tears because of a lack of sleep that stemmed from fireworks within the last two weeks.

"It's going on in the middle of the week, when there's nothing going on except somebody's bored," Lawless said.

Public safety officials said Tuesday that the police and fire departments have been overwhelmed with complaints about noisy fireworks keeping residents awake and scaring children and pets. Fireworks also have sparked grass fires and "one or two" structure fires this year, Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason said.

Mason told the council there had been a drastic increase in complaints received by the city's Division of Enhanced 911 since the state law took effect.

To date, Mason said, there have been 2,187 complaints about fireworks — more than double the amount of complaints for all of last year, and more than six times the amount of complaints in 2010, when aerial fireworks were illegal.

"Call takers were really swamped at various times," he said.

Police have issued 30 citations for those complaints, leading council members to express concerns about the police department's ability to enforce the ordinance.

Lexington police Lt. Clayton Roberts said police have to see the person setting off fireworks to be able to write a citation. Often, they have stopped shooting the fireworks by the time an officer responds.

Council members asked Mason to work with police and fire departments to come up with a solution to improve enforcement, such as creating a tactical team off officers whose sole duty would be to respond to fireworks calls when fireworks are common, such as around the the Fourth of July.

Regardless, officials said they hope the threat of bigger fines would be enough to keep people from driving out of county to buy fireworks and set them off in Lexington.

Council members said they hoped the threat of bigger fines would be enough to keep people from driving out of county to buy fireworks and set them off in Lexington.

The current minimum fine for illegal fireworks is $100 for the first offense, increasing to $250 for the second offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.

Under the new ordinance, the fines would rise to $250 for the first offense, to $750 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third offense or greater.

Stinnett said he would like to see bigger fines because people don't seem to mind paying $100 to be able to set off fireworks.

"I've heard more than one person say 'I'll pay a $100 fine. I paid $1,000 to get these fireworks. That's nothing,'" he said.

He noted that increasing fines was not a money grab.

"It's not a money thing for the city," he said. "We don't get the money. The state gets the money. "

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLPublicSafety.

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