NEW ALBANY — Citizens of New Albany now have more restrictions regarding when they can shoot off fireworks.
At Thursday's sometimes tense New Albany City Council meeting, council members voted 5-4 in favor of passing an ordinance limiting when fireworks can be used.
The final version of the ordinance, which will be tied in with the current noise ordinance, was identical to that which passed on first and second readings at the Aug. 5 meeting, with an amendment adding two more days to the week after the Fourth of July.
Now, residents of the city can only use consumer fireworks from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. June 29-30, July 1-3, and July 5-11. Fireworks are also allowed from 10 a.m. July 4 to 12:01 a.m. July 5. For New Year's celebrations, fireworks are legal from 10 a.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan 1.
Violations of the ordinance will result in a fine of $150 for the first offense, $300 for the second, and $500 for each thereafter. The ordinance also includes a clause that allows groups and organizations to acquire permits to shoot off fireworks outside of the set time frames.
Discussions of personal liberties took place in the lead up to the vote, with council member Matt Nash —who voted in favor of the ordinance — saying that there is a limit to such freedom when it causes distress for several others.
"At some point, your freedom can't trample someone else's," Nash said. "Everybody has the same liberties. We should be respectful. This ordinance lays out what the parameters are for when you're able to celebrate. You can still celebrate Fourth of July. If you look at the anecdotal evidence of what actually happens, without any ordinance at all, the time frames we laid out are when people were already shooting off fireworks. We're not re-inventing the wheel here. We're not really restricting much."
On the opposite end of this was council member Pat McLaughlin, who argued that the concerns of some should not result in restrictions for the majority.
"As time goes and you get a little bit more experience with this, a lot of things are maybe a bit of a knee-jerk reaction," McLaughlin said. "A few people come, so therefore we must do something on this. The fact of the matter is that it is a squeaky wheel gets the grease kind of thing. There's a few people that don't like this, so we should legislate to the masses. I believe that sometimes, you've got to curtail that. Maybe what I did is wrong in a way, but I don't think putting it in a random noise ordinance is the deal."
Nash, Greg Phipps, David Barksdale, Al Knable and Scott Blair voted in favor while McLaughlin, Dan Coffey, Bob Caesar and David Aebersold voted against.
Regardless of the philosophical reasoning for being in favor of or opposed to the ordinance, New Albany Police Chief Todd Bailey said there are practical concerns regarding enforcement.
"Police officers have to witness ordinance violations," Bailey said. "It's very similar to a traffic violation. By law, you have to witness that."
Bailey addressed the council saying that from a professional perspective, the police department did not receive more calls about fireworks this year than in previous years. He added a personal view as well, stating that he did not believe tying the fireworks restrictions into the noise ordinance was the right move.
"The simple fact is that the current noise ordinance is very broad," Bailey said. "It addresses many different things. It addresses music. It addresses industrial noise. It addresses other things. Now when you bring in fireworks, which are devices that are legally sold to celebrate miscellaneous holidays, I don't believe that it helps the officers in the separation of those things. I just think for the enforcement piece, it's much easier to go back to the table and devise something that makes more sense. For the enforcement piece, it's much easier to have separate ordinances."
If a separate ordinance were drawn up properly, Bailey said, it may be easier for officers to enforce. In its current state, however, that may be hard to do.
"If it's smartly written, it's something we could look at and analyze," Bailey said. "But in this case, it's simply going to be difficult to enforce."
To Nash, simply having parameters on the books may discourage people from shooting fireworks off at inappropriate times.
"At least if people know that there's a law, more people will respect it," Nash said. "If we get the information out that this is when it's allowed, I think more people will try to tailor their celebrations to that time frame."