Broken Arrow City Council declines to place fireworks ordinance on November ballot
By John Dobberstein, Editor
The Broken Arrow City Council decided Tuesday not to place a proposed fireworks ordinance back on the November ballot in a special election to replace the one passed by voters 16 years ago.
The proposition before council members asked if the city would allow fireworks to be discharged by individuals with a permit “for a reasonable and nominal fee” to cover the costs of enforcement and permit processing.
In 2006, the City Council passed ordinance No. 2822 calling for an election to decide whether people can discharge fireworks with a permit in the city limits. The proposition passed by a vote of 14,795 in favor and 8,985 against, but the fee itself was only touted in discussions about the proposal and didn’t appear on the ballot.
Council members talked at length about enforcement issues with the current laws and the need for any permits or fees. Third Ward councilwoman Christi Gillespie tossed out the idea of multi-year or one-time permits, or possibly having permits without fees.
“I feel like people who are doing the right thing and paying the fee are paying for those who are doing the wrong thing,” Gillespie said, adding that “you can’t mandate your neighbors to be good neighbors.”
Broken Arrow resident Matt Griffiths, who submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the city and did a lot of his own research on the issue, said he is dead set against having permit fee because residents didn’t get to vote on it.
He disagreed with sending the ballot question back to the people again because the fee is attached to it.
“After the discussions I’ve had with a lot of people I think the best option is to abolish the fee,” he said, noting that far more households are out shooting off fireworks around July 4 than those who have purchased permits.
“Two thousand five was the only year the city issued more than 50 permits and they have not done more than 10 over the last decade,” Griffiths said.
A social media poll that Griffiths assembled and distributed this past week asked if a permit should be required to shoot off fireworks in the city of Broken Arrow. About 25% said “yes,” 51% said “no” and 16% said fireworks shouldn’t be allowed in the city limits.
Broken Arrow Police Chief Brandon Berryhill told the City Council in April that fireworks enforcement can be difficult because the perpetrators may not be around when officers arrive, or too many calls come in simultaneously for police to handle all at once.
“We want officers to go to all the calls being called in,” said Broken Arrow Mayor Debra Wimpee, “but how do you cite someone if they’re not seen outside anymore?”
Revenues from permit fees in each fiscal year are used by the finance director to provide a budgetary estimate for fees expected to be raised for the following year. The fees raised go to the city’s general fund and are “allocated through the budgeting process for the police department,” said Assistant City Manager Norm Stephens.
Whether there are permits with or without a fee, there is a timeframe where fireworks are allowed and if fireworks are discharged outside of that, and police are called they must come out, said City Manager Michael Spurgeon. “The goal isn’t to issue citations but for those who don’t comply, there has to be ramifications,” he said.
Had any changes been requested Tuesday to the proposed ballot question, tight timelines would have prevented it from appearing in November and the question could have been pushed to April 2023, when city council elections are slated.
Instead, city of Broken Arrow staff will be gathering more data about fireworks permit sales, service calls, fees and the amount raised and the City Council is expected to take up the issue again at the Sept. 6 council meeting. The data available to the City Council Tuesday is missing figures from 2009 to 2016 and was requested from staff.
Spurgeon said the data to be collected for the meeting will include potential financial ramifications to the police department if the fee is dropped by the City Council.
"What the council did was show that they hope this issue will go away," Griffiths said after the meeting. "The city has said they would increase enforcement. That never happened. The city says there should be a permit for whatever reason. That's fine.
"To put the burden of responsibility on law-abiding citizens who get a permit and fund whatever it is that's being funded is not fair to the others who don't get a permit and instead are being unpunished patriotic freeloaders. What this shows is that you can essentially get away without getting a permit."