Maquoketa’s new fireworks ordinance needs a bit more work and the public needs more education about it.
That was the consensus of the city’s Public Safety Committee, which added the topic to its meeting Wednesday night.
Committee member and councilwoman Erica Barker broached the subject after a resident sent a letter to City Hall and councilmembers complaining about the recent fireworks. In addition, committee member Jessica Kean noted social media complaints and Kevin Kuhlman said he’d received about a dozen calls from disgruntled residents in the past week, which is when the July 4 portion of the fireworks ordinance was put to the test.
Under the revised 2019 city ordinance, Maquoketa residents could legally discharge pyrotechnics from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. July 1-7 and until 11 p.m. July 4.
“I drove around Maquoketa after midnight and it still looked like the Fourth of July,” said Councilman Ron Horan.
“I swear I’m not a fun-hater,” Barker said, laughing at the notion. “… But where’s the common sense in shooting fireworks at 7:30 in the morning on a Sunday?” That’s when one of her neighbors lighted up the block with a pyrotechnics display, she said.
“You can’t legislate common sense,” said Maquoketa City Manager Gerald Smith, eliciting laughter from committee members.
Barker wasn’t the only person to find fault with adherence to the new ordinance.
Jackson County Dispatch received multiple complaints from callers about fireworks being shot off. Complaints came from various parts of Maquoketa, as well as Sabula, Preston, Bellevue, and Andrew.
The Maquoketa Fire Department responded to one fireworks-related call within the duration of the ordinance. Fire Chief Matt Tranel said firefighters were called to a small grass fire at about 12:20 a.m. Sunday near Hurstville Pond. The fire was in the county and thus not affected by the city ordinance, he noted.
As the council worked on the new fireworks ordinance, Tranel had advocated for allowing fireworks July 3-4 only.
Having four independent fireworks vendors move into the city in the weeks prior to July 4 made it more convenient for residents to buy the various types of pyrotechnics.
“I think we’ve done a good job of condensing down from the previous ordinance, but I feel that we need to take it further,” Barker said. She added that the close proximity of homes and the chance for possible injuries or fires if fireworks are set off within the city concerned her.
“I think every year no matter what you’re gonna have people complaining about it,” countered Kuhlman, who set off fireworks in his own neighborhood. “I just know when fireworks in Maquoketa were completely illegal, they still went on. … I think it’s a wonderful thing. I love setting off fireworks.”
Ticketing violators can prove difficult, according to Maquoketa Police Chief Brad Koranda.
Residents can call the police station to file a complaint about someone they think is violating the ordinance. However, the caller must be willing to write a statement about the incident and sign it, have proof (such as photos or video) of the violation, or officers must witness the violation in order for the police to issue a ticket.
“I think what’s happening is people are not calling in, they’re afraid to call in,” Barker said.
“Call in, make a statement, and say who you are,” Koranda advised. “We can’t do anything unless we see it or [a witness] signs a statement.”
The only other real option is to outright ban all fireworks again, and that hasn’t worked in the past, Smith said. By allowing fireworks within city limits, “There’s going to be some degree of inconvenience here,” he said.
Public Safety Committee members will bring the issue to the Maquoketa City Council to consider whether more constricting changes need to be made to the ordinance. In the meantime, be sure to contact a councilmember with questions or concerns on the issue.
“We need to educate the public better for next year,” Koranda said.
The next test of the city’s ordinance will come on New Year’s Eve. Under a recent ordinance change, Maquoketa residents can shoot off fireworks from 10:30 p.m. Dec. 31 until 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1.