Committee sends fireworks ordinance to council

Photo by Evan Bevins Parkersburg City Councilman Jeff Fox discusses proposed fireworks regulations during a Public Works Committee meeting Tuesday at the Municipal Building.

PARKERSBURG — The city’s prohibition against fireworks would be lifted four times a year under legislation forwarded to Parkersburg City Council by its Public Works Committee.

At its meeting Tuesday afternoon, the committee voted 3-2 to send to the full council an ordinance requiring people using fireworks to abide by state code. They would only be allowed to do so between 9 and 11 p.m. July 2-4 and from 9 p.m. Dec. 31 to 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1. Violators would be subject to a fine of $100 to $500.

The current code includes only a blanket prohibition against using fireworks in city limits, but police generally show leniency around holidays like Independence Day. In addition, Police Chief Joe Martin said that because of manpower, officers only respond to fireworks complaints involving property damage or injury.

“We will not respond simply because we don’t have the resources,” he said.

However, Martin said he supports the idea of establishing a set time for fireworks and said the department’s 10-hour schedule provides overlapping shifts that might free up a few officers to address the issue.

City Attorney Joe Santer said council members should accept that if the ordinance is passed, it won’t stop everyone from setting off fireworks outside of the designated hours. But he added that he believes many people would follow the new rules.

“The idea of having some legal time to discharge … I think would limit the extended time that people are doing it,” Santer said.

This is the third time in the last two years the Public Works Committee has considered fireworks regulations. After state law allowed larger, louder pyrotechnics, council members have reported receiving numerous complaints.

In 2016, the previous council opted to take no action after Martin said existing laws against disturbing the peace were sufficient. The committee under the new council took up the matter in May, but did not pass anything. Issuing a public notice with specific dates and times was discussed then but nothing else was done with it.

On Tuesday, Committee Chairwoman Sharon Kuhl started the discussion with language drafted by Santer that would have adopted many aspects of state law regarding fireworks into the city code, allowing violators to go to municipal court. She also suggested provisions raising the city’s fee for pyrotechnic sellers from $25 to $50 to match Vienna’s and requiring people who wished to set off fireworks to register with the city and pay a $25 fee.

“I don’t see people coming and getting a permit,” Councilman Jeff Fox said.

He suggested establishing set locations in each district where people could use fireworks. Kuhl expressed doubt that that would get a lot of cooperation either.

Council President J.R. Carpenter said he saw no need to add any regulations because the existing zero-tolerance policy combined with discretion around holidays is sufficient.

“I don’t know how you can beat what we’ve got on the books right now,” he said.

Councilman Eric Barber made a motion to adopt only a few provisions in the proposed legislation, but it died for lack of a second. Kuhl said she did not want to spend more time discussing it and again take no action.

“It will not be brought up again. So it’s either do or die,” Kuhl said.

Eventually, Fox made a motion to adopt a few more portions of the proposed legislation, including allowing the Fire Department to assist with enforcement. It passed 3-2, with Carpenter and Councilman Dave McCrady opposed.

Also during the meeting, Carpenter brought up a section of city code that allows people to register their bicycles with the Police Department in an effort to deter thefts and help return recovered bikes to their owners.

“We have had a rash, I mean a plethora, of bicycles stolen,” he said. “This is a fantastic ordinance that we already have on the books.”

Martin said no one has registered a bicycle with the department for 20 years, but he could have officers promote the program at events like Safety Town and community health fairs.

“I think that’s ideal,” Fox said.