City Council supports advisory vote on fireworks ban

ARLINGTON – The City Council appears ready to put an advisory vote in the hands of voters to help them decide whether to ban fireworks in city limits.

Council members discussed the impact that illegal and “safe and sane” fireworks have on the city’s Fourth of July celebration, on families and neighborhoods that use fireworks for their own gatherings and the strain they put on public safety resources.

“It won’t hurt anything if we go with an advisory vote,” City Councilwoman Jan Schuette said. “Whatever the results come back with, it’s still our decision in the end.”

The council will choose Aug. 5 whether to put the yes-no, non-binding vote on the Nov. 5 ballot. Meantime, they are also monitoring another elected body on a parallel track.

The Snohomish County Council on Wednesday may go ahead with placing a similar advisory vote on the same ballot. It would enact an ordinance barring the sale, possession and discharge of consumer fireworks in unincorporated areas.

The Arlington council wanted to hear from the public at Monday’s workshop.

But only one person spoke.

Russ Nuss is a Lakewood-area pastor with Crossroads Fellowship Church who runs a nonprofit “safe and sane” fireworks booth in Smokey Point during the July 4th holiday. The group is passionate about helping children. They raise over $30,000 to help fund Lakewood Youth Football, adventure soccer for foster kids, children’s agriculture for Arlington Christian School and other programs.

“Fireworks is a pretty substantial budget item for us,” said the youth football president. “If fireworks go away, how do we fund some of the good things (we do) for young people?”

Schuette said she talked to many people in different age groups. What she heard surprised her.

“I haven’t had one single person say ‘Don’t ban fireworks,’” she said.

Other council members weighed in.

Josh Roundy and Marilyn Oertle reminded that the ban is directed at outlawing legal fireworks use, since illegal pyrotechnics are already prohibited.

Councilman Mike Hopson suggested that if a ban happens, the city should consider designating a single controlled location, such as the Country Charm open field property, where people could set off legal fireworks. He’s uncomfortable taking the privilege of discharging fireworks away from a segment of the community that enjoys the celebration, but supports an advisory vote.

Councilwoman Sue Weiss doesn’t want a ban, but she backs the advisory vote, too. Her biggest concern is stepping up enforcement to combat illegal fireworks.

Councilwoman Jesica Stickles said she heard from constituents about PTSD and trauma affecting pets that fireworks cause. She also learned that legal fireworks aren’t as well-regulated as they should be, so more accidents are likely to continue.

Police Chief Jonathan Ventura said most of the city’s complaints come on Independence Day, and are usually about the noise. Arlington had 22 calls July 4th. The complaint window is generally between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Existing city laws restrict discharging fireworks to only 9 a.m. to midnight on July 4th and Dec. 31 from 7 p.m. to midnight.

For council members who wanted more enforcement, Ventura said it’s a matter of staffing and funding. Part of the problem is July 4th is already the biggest celebration day in Arlington as far as straining public safety resources, with multiple events keeping residents and visitors busy.The department rule for many years had been that everybody works, and it’s a mandatory staff day, with overtime involved.

Fireworks enforcement emphasis would ensure that July 4th would again be an all-hands-on-deck holiday. That’s overtime. Oertle asked about educating the public about a ban or future changes in fireworks laws.

Ventura said that’s a critical piece, and mentioned that city communications manager Kristin Banfield is putting together an outline for a public education campaign.

He credited Marysville’s fireworks education campaign for what constitutes legal and illegal fireworks, and the steep civil and criminal punishments that can result when breaking fireworks laws.

City Administrator Paul Ellis gave council members a memo in early July outlining options for a discussion on fireworks that ranged from an advisory vote, a council-initiated ban or further restrictions in the event of emergency conditions, such as high fire danger.

State law requires any local ordinance that is stricter than state law to have a one-year waiting period before it takes effect. If the council adopted a new law on June 15, 2020, the last meeting before July 4, it would not take effect until June 2021.

In other council business to be voted on at its next meeting:

• Bids are due Aug. 2 to install a temporary signal at Highway 530 and Smokey Point Boulevard, an estimated $390,000 project that would be funded just by the city using the growth fund, which includes traffic mitigation fees. “This is a very urgent project, and we want to get this started as soon as possible,” Public Works Director Jim Kelly said. Officials had hoped to begin work in June, but requirements for the state highway lengthened the permitting process. Equipment such as the signal controller and steel pole are being purchased sooner under a state bid to move things along, but work won’t be able to start until fall. The city is working with the state and Stillaguamish Tribe to jointly plan and fund a permanent solution to add a roundabout and rechannelization, which could still be four to five years away.

• Council will be asked to award a $78,411 contract to low bidder Diverse Contractors, Inc. for the Terrace Park renovation. The contractor will reshape and level the terrace steps that were created using horse-drawn plows. They will also remove 13 trees and exposed roots, and install a concrete sidewalk for ADA accessibility, along with a new fence. The park at 809 E. Fifth St. with its natural amphitheater has been a popular venue for old-time movies, music and Shakespearian plays.

• The council would award a $178,717 contract to Fidalgo Paving and Construction to regrade, repave and stripe the merchants parking lot and alley downtown. The city is also putting in conduit for two future electric car charging stations. City officials anticipate work will be completed by the end of September.

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