Warsaw Council Wants Input On Fireworks In City

Eric Hoffhien, an Afghanistan War veteran who has dealt with PTSD, encourages the Warsaw Common Council to approve a fireworks ordinance Monday night. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

TIMES UNION REPORTS – If you’ve ever wanted to give the Warsaw Common Council your opinion on fireworks within city limits, now is the time.

By a vote of 5-1-1, the Council on Monday approved on first reading an ordinance regarding fireworks in the city. The second reading will be given at the Council’s next meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 6. Council members strongly requested the public let them know what they thought either to them before the Dec. 6 meeting or at that public meeting.

Mayor Joe Thallemer began Monday’s discussion on the ordinance by reminding the Council they have been discussing fireworks in the city for a while. He had asked Council President Jack Wilhite to prepare an ordinance to be debated publicly, and that ordinance was presented Monday.

“This ordinance takes into account the first three tenants … from (Indiana Code) 22.11.14-1005. Those are by state statute. The new item is item D. And the restriction would be that fireworks would be permitted between the hours of 5 to 11 p.m. the remaining Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year. So if they weren’t included in the original state statute, it does allow the use of consumer fireworks between 5 and 11 p.m. just Fridays and Saturdays,” Thallemer said.

City attorney Scott Reust said one thing the ordinance is specifically intended to do is not include such fireworks as model rockets, toy pistol caps, signal flares and some of the “smaller-type not-noisy fireworks” such as sparklers, cones, fountains, wheels, snakes, etc. “So, those would not be included in the definition of the consumer fireworks that would be unlawful to use at certain times within the city,” he said.

Section 67.02, A, B and C of the ordinance are all state statutes and are periods of time the city is not allowed to govern regarding fireworks. Those hours are between 5 p.m. and the two hours after sunset June 29-30, July 1-3, 5-9; between 10 a.m. and midnight July 4; and between 10 a.m. Dec. 31 and 1 a.m. Jan. 1. The state governs those days and times for fireworks displays.

Reust said the ordinance presented Monday adds “the additional limitation in the city of Warsaw that on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year, that are not contained in the state statute, they would be allowed between the hours of 5 p.m. and 11 p.m.”

Wilhite said the state allows fireworks every day between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. It doesn’t allow fireworks to be shot off 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. as that’s a quiet time as far as fireworks.

“So there is something already in place is what I’m saying. It may not be to the degree that we would like for it to be, but there is something already there,” Wilhite said. He said he’s come to the position that he would be willing to restrict 85% of the time the city is able to restrict fireworks, but allow fireworks between 5 and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. “It would hopefully be kind of a help to some of our ethnic groups within the city. There are a lot of people who like to use fireworks as part of celebrations, weddings, quinceañeras. And this would provide some relief for them to at least be able to fire off some fireworks during their celebrations.”

He said it was a good compromise, though it leans toward the restrictive side.

“Compromise is good and I would hope this body would be able to do that,” Wilhite said.

Councilman Jeff Grose said he was glad the Council was finally addressing the issue while promoting as much freedom as possible and encouraging people to be good neighbors. He said the ordinance was a good step. Grose said he also liked how the penalties were set up and that vendors are required to post the city’s fireworks ordinance in full and in legible size and font at the point of display of their fireworks within their establishment.

Any person, firm or corporation who violates the ordinance is subject to a $150 fine for the first offense and $250 for each subsequent offense. A separate offense shall be deemed committed upon each day during which a violation occurs or continues, according to a copy of the ordinance.

“I think this has hit the mark,” Grose said.

As for enforcement, the Warsaw Police Department will be charged with enforcing the entire provisions of the ordinance. The Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory, through the use of commercial inspections, will be charged with enforcement of vendors posting the rules.

Councilwoman Cindy Dobbins said she was struggling with the ordinance, though it was a great start. She said people who reached out to her were concerned about fireworks being allowed two nights a week for 52 weeks a year. She said she wanted to hear from more people.

Quance agreed, saying people need to step up and let the Council know about the issue.

“It’s going to take the community really to step up,” Dobbins said, noting people will contact her but then not make a public statement.

Councilman Jerry Frush said his wife listens to firecrackers going off but they’re not in his community and he doesn’t know who is setting them off. People living in the area where the fireworks are going off should be the ones protesting them.

Councilman Josh Finch – who voted against the ordinance – said he, Wilhite and Councilman Mike Klondaris talked a lot about fireworks for five months.

“My biggest issue with all of this, a few points I’ll make, is, one, I think it will be really hard to enforce. I think our police staff is already short-staffed. I would certainly hate for them to run around chasing their tail on a fireworks issue and they can’t find the culprit,” he said. “… I think one of the issues is that there’s not a whole lot of participation in making that phone call. I would really like to hear from police. How many calls have they received over the years? Have they received any? If they haven’t received any, then there’s no point in us enforcing anything.”

Finally, he said, the way the state statute is written, there’s no recourse, and he said the ordinance was a “drastic” measure out of the gate. Wilhite said Police Chief Scott Whitaker said the city wouldn’t need an ordinance to enforce those hours between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m. The penalty for that is a Class C infraction, which carries up to a $500 fine. Reust agreed, saying under Indiana law, if you set fireworks off between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m., except for those other designated times, it’s a Class C infraction which can be fineable up to $500.

Klondaris said he probably had more contact from people about fireworks than other issues. He agreed the Council didn’t want to burden its police department, but he wanted the ordinance to be complaint driven. He said he didn’t buy the argument that people had the right to shoot fireworks off.

Eric Hoffhien, a veteran of the Afghanistan War who suffers from PTSD and who has asked for the Council to do something about fireworks in the city limits, spoke in favor of the ordinance. He said it was a compromise that will affect maybe 200 people who are bad players in town. The ordinance gives the rest of the city a recourse, provides restrictions and consequences. Hoffhien said people don’t know what the restrictions are regarding fireworks, and the ordinance will require vendors to post the city ordinance.

Wilhite made a motion eventually to approve the ordinance on first reading and Councilwoman Diane Quance provided the second. Wilhite, Quance, Grose, Dobbins and Frush voted in favor of it; Finch voted against it; and Klondaris abstained.

Quance then encouraged the public to show up at the next Council meeting, or contact them beforehand, and let them know what they thought.