While the Waverly City Council considered the second of three readings to shorten the current fireworks usage rules from two weeks to three days for the Independence Day holiday, the members rejected a proposed amendment for their outright ban from being fired off in town.
The council approved the ordinance on a 5-2 vote, with Ward 2 Councilwoman Heather Beaufore and Ward 5 Councilman Tim Kangas opposing, that would only allow consumer-grade pyrotechnics to be lit on July 3-5 as well as New Year’s Eve. The allowed hours would be noon to 10 p.m. July 3 and 5, noon to 11 p.m. July 4 and noon to 12:30 a.m. Dec. 31.
However, Kangas, sensing it was going to happen eventually, moved to amend the ordinance to bar the use of fireworks, even though they could still be sold in Waverly from June 1 to July 8, as allowed by the state.
“There’s been a lot of comments in that direction,” Kangas said. “It’s confusing enough for people as it is to try to get in all the details of where they can and where they can’t and whatnot. It’s just easier to say, ‘You can’t do it.’ It’s a lot easier to enforce.”
That proposal failed on a 6-1 vote against it, with only Kangas voting for it.
The third reading on the three-day timeframe for fireworks will take place on Monday, Sept. 21.
During a public hearing for the second reading, two citizens emailed City Hall expressing their desire to stop the use of pyrotechnics except by licensed professionals.
Mayor Adam Hoffman read an email from Michael Austin stating: “To keep it short, I think fireworks should be banned within city limits, but (I could) put up with them on July 4.”
Renee Lloyd also submitted an email to ban the fireworks.
“The city houses are too close for such dangerous activity,” Lloyd wrote, as read by Hoffman. “We are not alone in our fear that our house could catch on fire. This past season sounded like a war zone, and we feel that 15 days is far too long for people who are adversely affected by fireworks.
“To be fair to everyone, we fell two or three days is plenty. The safest option is for the city to put up a fireworks display by licensed professionals, that way those adversely affected could plan accordingly.”
Ward 3 Councilman Rod Drenkow also believed that banishment is the best route, but he felt the three-day window was the best compromise for now.
“My whole issue is with enforcement,” Drenkow said. “I hope that some time before the next July 4 holiday, we can have a conversation with the public service people how we can do a better job of making sure what the ordinance is and when they can use fireworks and when they cannot use fireworks and see if we can do a better job of making sure people can follow the law.”
He added that enforcement means more than just what’s being done by police. He wants city leader to express the dos and don’ts of the ordinance, including not using them on public property and on other people’s property without their permission as well as outside of allowed times and dates.
“I’m not sure if we’ve done a particularly good job of communicating that,” Drenkow said. “I think that’s one issue.”
He also seconded Kangas’ amendment but said he would vote “no” because he felt now is not the time to bar pyrotechnics.
“I’m willing to give this three-day window a couple of years,” he said, “and if we still have the problems that we’ve had in the past, then I think tells us, as (Ward 1 Councilman Brian Birgen) says, ‘This is why we can’t have nice, shiny things.’
“This is putting everybody on notice that if they don’t comply with the law, this is going to be taken away from them.”
At-Large Councilman Matthew Schneider piggybacked on those comments, asking to have the issue discussed in a future study session as how best craft that message to the public before next Independence Day.
“There’s also room to communicate to the citizens of Waverly (to) try to get it funneled into those limited number of days,” Schneider said. “I think a little bit of effort there or at least a discussion there would be worthwhile.”
At-Large Councilwoman Ann Rathe asked Kangas if he’s heard more than the two who submitted their desires to ban fireworks to the council as a whole. She said she hadn’t heard more of those calls.
Kangas said he observed the “mood” for banishment during the most recent Independence Day season from the public about fireworks.
“I haven’t heard a lot of people come out to urge to keep it,” he said.
Rathe said the majority of comments she’d heard was shortening the window, not closing it, though some were for a total ban and others were OK as it was.
“This might be a good compromise to leave it at three days,” Rathe said. “I haven’t heard a groundswell either way in the last month or so.”
Beaufore agreed with Rathe about the lack of desire shut down pyrotechnic usage. She also agreed with Kangas’ assertion of confusion over the difference in the city’s ordinance versus state law.
However, she thinks that 2020 is an outlier as far as the volume (in numbers if not in decibels) of the fireworks shot off.
“Everything was cancelled this year,” Beaufore said. “I believe I read somewhere somebody saying… maybe we should give it another year to see what happens.
“This is just a different year with no fireworks (displays), everything being cancelled, and I think it was exaggerated this year.”
Kangas said that when the state law was changed in 2017 to legalize the sale and usage of fireworks in Iowa after nearly 80 years, he felt the best way to handle the issue was to simply follow state law.
“I think it kept when they can be sold and when they could be used clear for the public as opposed to trying to figure out this town or this town or that town, whatever,” he said. “On the other hand, if it is going to be restricted again, my biggest concern, as in the past, is enforceability. Trying to set shorter parameters and then trying to educate the public, we could put as much out as we want, whether they follow that or not, when we put speed limit signs out, that doesn’t mean anything to the public.”