MASON CITY | The Mason City Council has taken steps to reduce illegal fireworks use, notably where they are sold and increasing fines for their use.
On Tuesday, the city council gave initial approval to three ordinance amendments restricting the sale, discharge and enforcement of consumer fireworks.
One of the changes faces one more vote, while the other two must be passed two more times.
“We did give it a couple years to see how it went, and I think probably the amount of fireworks being lit off this last summer increased over 2017, so I’m happy to see the recommendation to ban them,” said Paul Adams, at-large city councilman. “I think it’s the best course of action along with the other changes we’ve made to the ordinance as well.”
However, the city council disagreed with banning fireworks entirely in a 4-2 vote, which narrowed the times fireworks can legally be used in Mason City during the Fourth of July holiday.
The city and police fielded more than 100 complaints and concerns about fireworks over the summer, which marked the second season in which home fireworks displays were legal during certain dates in Iowa after state legislators lifted a longstanding ban.
Since then, Mason City has been working to modify its local restrictions to address those concerns.
The proposed ordinance amendments discussed and acted upon Tuesday resulted from an August work session.
The first of the three ordinance amendments unanimously approved restricts the sale of consumer fireworks to permanent buildings within structures for commercial or retail use in the Z4 Multi-Use District, which includes commercial areas like the South Federal Avenue and Iowa 122 corridors.
The amendment also restricts the temporary sale of consumer fireworks to land zoned Z6 Industrial near the cement plant, Smithfield and the older industrial park along 15th Street Southwest.
“I missed the last meeting, but I fully support this,” said John Lee, First Ward councilman. “It’s a smart move.”
According to the Iowa State Fire Marshal Division, there were 15 licensed consumer fireworks retail sites, including 10 temporary tents and five permanent stores, in Mason City this summer.
Of the temporary tent sites, six were on Fourth Street Southwest, while others were on North Delaware Avenue, South Illinois Avenue, South Monroe Avenue and Indianhead Drive — all of which are not areas allowed under the proposed ordinance.
City Administrator Aaron Burnett said he hadn’t received any feedback from business owners related to the change.
The city doesn’t have the authority to ban the sale of fireworks and must “provide some avenue for (fireworks retailers) to engage in their business,” which was affirmed by a federal court ruling.
“It’s become clear as long as regulate to specific areas that are still usable functional areas that they could operate a business, then we’re fine,” Burnett said.
The second of the three proposed ordinance amendments unanimously approved allows law enforcement to issue municipal infractions to people who discharge fireworks or allow others to discharge fireworks on their property outside of the city’s designated time frame. Violators would be fined $250.
“This gives the police another option and better set of tools to enforce,” Burnett said, adding if residents didn’t respond to the fine, then they could be criminally charged.
The third ordinance amendment discussed by the city council bans the discharge of fireworks within Mason City, which Councilmen Tom Thoma and Adams supported.
“The complaints I’ve gotten are numerous and quite vocal. People are really concerned and it’s been a problem throughout the city,” Thoma said. “I’m in support of the ban.”
However, Lee disagreed with the ban.
“Once again the state of Iowa basically ties our hands and we cannot eliminate the sale (of fireworks), and I have a very difficult time having people purchase something and saying they can’t fire it off,” he said, later suggesting the council shorten the window fireworks are allowed to be discharged within the city.
Currently, the city permits fireworks from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. July 3 and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. July 4, as well as New Year’s Eve.
Lee’s suggestion, which was approved by a 4-2 vote with Councilmen Will Symonds, Joshua Masson, John Jaszewski in favor, is to allow the discharge of fireworks within Mason City from 6 to 11 p.m. July 3 and July 4.
“I think that now that our police department has a little more teeth and are able to enforce the rules that we have in place, I think encouraging citizens to use these during a certain time ... will be beneficial for the city,” Symonds said.
The council will discuss the ordinance amendments at its Nov. 20 meeting.