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Sparks fly as common council, community debate fireworks ordinance

Police chief says ordinance would put pressure on department

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FIREWORKS — Joe Wampler speaks before the Kokomo Common Council last week. Wampler, the owner of Best Price Fireworks, spoke out against the city implementing a fireworks ordinance, which would limit when residents could use fireworks legally.

While the Kokomo Common Council initially was hesitant to write an oft-discussed fireworks ordinance, it seems the council may move forward with such an ordinance — but to mixed responses.

At last Monday’s Common Council meeting, community leaders, law enforcement, and members from both sides of the aisle met to address the council regarding a fireworks ordinance, despite the council having expressed doubt at how such an ordinance could be enforced. Despite possible enforcement issues, the majority of those who spoke last week spoke in favor of such an ordinance.

Kokomo Police Department Chief Doug Stout addressed council members, telling them that he had reached out to other cities that had fireworks ordinances to see how they were enforced, and he told the council that “99.9 percent” of people follow such ordinances.

Despite that, Stout told the council that fireworks complaints would be a low priority call for officers.

“Unfortunately, you’re going to get a neighbor-against-a-neighbor situation because they’ve never got along or haven’t gotten along for years. And it becomes a tit for tat because, believe it or not, when a neighbor calls the police and we show up in a black and white (car), amazingly, they stop,” Stout said. “So we can get them involved, but it still comes down to a matter of it is a very low priority call.”

When asked point-blank if an ordinance would put undue pressure on the department, Stout said “yes.”

“Yes,” Stout said. “And not just the department but for every entity going on who would have to follow through with the enforcement aspect of this.”

Kokomo has no fireworks ordinance currently, meaning that fireworks may be used year-round, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., with special time extensions for some holidays, like the Fourth of July.

State law, however, allows municipalities to enact their own fireworks ordinances. South Bend, for example, is one such city that has enacted a fireworks ordinance limiting the usage of fireworks.

An ordinance, such as the one in South Bend, is something that Indian Heights resident and County Councilman John Roberts has been proposing for some time.

“Of course we have a fireworks problem here in Kokomo,” Roberts said as he addressed the common council. “We are an anomaly compared to other cities our size in the great state of Indiana. And it’s not your doing. You’re all new members here, and you inherited this. And so I ask you to fix it. We’ve identified that we are not normal with the past effects of fireworks ordinances. South Bend, Lafayette, Columbus, Indianapolis, Muncie, Carmel, Noblesville, Westfield, they all have a respectable fireworks ordinances that honor the Fourth of July. We all love the Fourth of July, or I used to. Except now it starts before Memorial Day, and it keeps going until November.”

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Roberts called on the council to examine the situation with a sense of urgency and asked them to disregard cities that allow fireworks on and around Memorial Day and Labor Day when considering the ordinance.

Several others also spoke in favor of the ordinance, including VFW Post 1152 Commander John Meeks. Citing fireworks as a possible trigger for veterans, he called on the common council to pass an enforceable ordinance.

Another resident, Steve Long, said his experience with fireworks in his neighborhood in the 2400 block of North Locke Street was “comparable to a battlefield.”

“It’s been a very quiet neighborhood, and people have been very kind and supportive of each other there,” Long said. “That changed last summer. At no time have we ever experienced like the all-out assault on our sense of hearing and neighborhood peace like what happened last year. It was awful.

“Mortar-type fireworks began to be fired off in late May, and they continued ‘til almost Thanksgiving. We experienced a loudness level that would be comparable to a battlefield.”

Though the majority of the attendees at the common council meeting who spoke supported the ordinance, not all were in favor.

Joe Wampler, owner of Best Price Fireworks, spoke against the ordinance, citing incorrectly that fireworks are covered under the already-enforced noise ordinance that was enacted years ago.

“If we’re going to target an industry of fireworks, then let’s get this on every kid that has a muffler that’s too loud, every motorcycle that has a muffler that’s too loud,” Wampler said. “Let’s not single out one industry, and let’s get the opinion of the patrol officers. I’m not interested in what the hierarchy says, with all due respect. I’m interested in what the patrol officers do.”

The noise ordinance, however, exempts fireworks. To apply to fireworks, the ordinance would need to be amended by the council.

Regardless, the council and police chief agreed that the biggest issue would be the enforcement of a fireworks ordinance.

The ordinance is currently in draft form, and it is unclear when it will be completed and presented by the council.