The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly turned down an ordinance that would have allowed residents outside city limits to launch fireworks during a two-month winter window without a permit.
During its annual east Peninsula meeting in Seward on Tuesday, assembly members unanimously scrapped Ordinance 2013-11, which would have allowed borough residents to launch lawfully-purchased fireworks in December and January under adult supervision. It also would have restricted the fireworks from being launched near various structures like health care facilities or gas stations and prohibit the sale of fireworks from January through October.
According to borough information, the current ban on the sale and discharge of fireworks within the Kenai Peninsula Borough outside cities began in 1985 and is punishable with a fine of $500, unless a group has a permit issued by the borough mayor.
Assembly member Brent Johnson, who sponsored the ordinance with fellow assembly member Kelly Wolf, wrote that most people launching fireworks never apply for permits and the borough has “done nothing” to curtail the activity.
Several residents testified against the ordinance citing a number of reasons from how fireworks affect animals, the dangers of fireworks starting summer wildfires and physical harm or death caused by accidents with them.
“It is riskier in the summer than it is in the winter and I thought if I can give these people time when it is legal to shoot them off, a window of time, maybe they’d quit shooting them off during the summer ... ,” Johnson said.
Although he said he would have liked to give borough residents more “liberty,” Johnson said the borough, by at least considering the ordinance, has publicized some of the problems and risks of using fireworks and hopefully that will help the problem.
Assembly member Sue McClure agreed, adding that she would like to see more education and awareness of the borough’s prohibition and the dangers of fireworks.
“I would think that most people abide by the existing restrictions now, and they remain safe and occasionally people stray from that, but I think it is our job to not make things less safe,” she said.
Wolf said he co-sponsored the ordinance because on New Year’s Eve he “laid in bed and listened to an hour and a half of fireworks and guns going off.”
“Do we ban guns? We have people out there shooting guns,” he said. “I’ll probably go along with voting no on this, but I do believe that we are infringing on our liberties, the government is stepping all over its people and I compliment Mr. Johnson on the due diligence on digging into this and bringing this forward.”
Assembly member Bill Smith said he thinks the borough’s code is “at best a modest deterrent,” and echoed the hope that knowledge of fireworks’ risks would add to that deterrence.
“But what a lot of fireworks are is really a public nuisance for private pleasure and I don’t think we need to encourage it,” he said.
Assembly delays fiscal note policy
Also on Tuesday, the borough assembly unanimously postponed Resolution 2013-037, which would establish a fiscal note policy requiring a fiscal form be attached to all proposed legislation expected to have a monetary impact on the borough starting July 1.
Assembly member Mako Haggerty said there was lengthy discussion about the resolution during committee. He said he understood why fiscal notes are important, but had reservations about implementing them.
“That’s our responsibility, that’s why we’re here and I don’t think I’ve ever really voted on anything here without having some sense of what that cost is going to be,” he said.
Haggerty said he was concerned that a fiscal note policy would take up a lot of time, would only be an estimate and could lead to some assembly members getting “lost in the weeds on legislation.” Moreover, Haggerty said he was concerned that would lead to only discussing the financial side of what the borough does.
“When that happens I feel like it would not only discourage us from doing good things, but it would also change the conversation, turn everything into a conversation about money,” he said.
Assembly president Linda Murphy, who co-sponsored the resolution, said she would work on the resolution between now and when the assembly takes it up again at its May 7 meeting. She said she would consider how to best address various assembly concerns raised about the issue, including whether the cost — financial and staff time — of providing a fiscal note would outweigh its benefit.
“I just want us all to know what we are voting for when we vote,” she said. “To me it sounded simple, but maybe it is not so simple in the real world.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.