Monday night’s meeting of the Perry City Council, its first since June 30, found the council poised to hear citizens’ opinions about the use and abuse of fireworks over this year’s Fourth of July.
The first opinion aired was from Perry City Council member Vicki Klein, who said the effect was “horrible.”
“This year, I think, was over the limit,” Klein said. “It doesn’t matter what we do for an ordinance, they’re not abiding by it.” She called for a ban on the use of fireworks within the city limits.
“It’s just getting out of hand,” she said. “July Fourth was, I’m not kidding you, it was nonstop. It was a continuation. There’s no way you could have anything with family that day. It was just unbelievable.”
Council member Dr. Randy McCaulley asked whether banning fireworks would effectively prevent their use.
“If we banned it in Perry, would that change the behavior of the majority of people using fireworks?” McCaulley said.
Thanks to the state law championed by Jake Chapman, Perry’s representative in the Iowa Senate, cities cannot legally prohibit the sale of fireworks but can only limit their use within the cities.
“That’s one thing that we can’t eliminate is the sales in town,” said Perry Police Department Chief Eric Vaughn. “We can restrict where they can sell, and I think that’s one of the things we discussed at the committee meeting.”
Vaughn, McCaulley and Perry City Council member Barb Wolling composed the ad hoc fireworks committee created last summer to study the issue. The committee recommended continuing to limit fireworks usage to the Fourth of July from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. and to start prohibiting their use in areas zoned as Arterial Commercial or Central Business Commercial, including downtown Perry and the businesses in the First Avenue and Willis Avenue corridors.
Now the council is considering a new zoning ordinance that would restrict where fireworks could be sold within town, moving them to the outskirts and away from the high-traffic areas new grocery stores and farm-supply stores.
“We haven’t changed that ordinance yet,” Vaughn said. The idea was raised before this year’s holiday, but contracts for the tent sellers were already signed.
“We should put that on the agenda right away to enforce that for next year,” said Perry City Council member Dean Berkland, who said he also favors a total ban on use.
“If it were banned totally, it would be a lot easier to enforce, I would think,” he said. “This year was crazy.”
Several Perry residents spoke during the open-forum portion of the council meetings. All spoke in favor of a ban on usage and restricting sales to the edge of town.
Paula Secress said her north Sixth Street “neighborhood was like a battleground with a constant barrage of explosives,” and “the severity was much worse this year” than last.
“I think we’ve tried this for, what is it? four years now. It’s not working,” Secress said. “I think we as citizens deserve a right now to try something different. Yes, I know that it’s not going to end right away.”
Perry residents Mark Miller and Cheryl Conner echoes Secress’ concerns.
“It’s just gotten way out of hand,” Conner said.
Fireworks seller Parker Sell, who sold his explosives this year from a tent in the parking lot outside the Metro Buffet, spoke via Zoom to the issue in the open forum portion of the council meeting.
“I don’t understand how you guys are going about this,” Sell said to the council. “Three years ago, people would drive down to Missouri. I don’t understand why you don’t think that they would drive 10 minutes to the next town over in order to get fireworks.”
Sell seemed to have some difficulty grasping the notion that banning the sale was not proposed but only the use. Perry Mayor John Andorf assured Sell several times that sales would not be banned.
“By state law we cannot ban the sale of fireworks in town,” Andorf said. “So it might be a different location, but there would still be tents in town or the opportunity for tents.”
Sell said relocating his fireworks tent would harm his business. He said he signed a long-term lease to use the parking lot, and forcing sales away from the commercial corridor and out to the edge of town would harm him financially.
“I have a long lease, and it will cost me thousands of dollars because I can’t get out of that lease,” Sell said.
Berkland assured him that if the city bans sales in that location, then Sell should be able to get out of his lease.
“If it’s banned from council, you should be able to get out of that lease legally,” he said.
Vaughn noted that his department received 66 fireworks complaint calls this year, the same number received in 2020. He said he found it “frustrating” that people do not follow the rules and regulations.
“I think it just shows disrespect for your neighbors and your fellow citizens,” he said. “These people will end up getting it banned for everyone else.”