City bans fireworks
By DAWNE LEIKER
In a 3-2 vote, Hays city commissioners Thursday night banned the sale and use of fireworks in Hays for 2013.
City staff recommended the move as a way to avoid the "very vocal outcry" that came from residents calling for a ban during the scorch of last summer. It puts the city at odds with an ordinance passed 2-1 by Ellis County commissioners Monday evening that allows the sale of fireworks in Ellis County.
County commissioners, however, left the decision of whether to allow fireworks to be discharged in rural areas in Ellis County to Rural Fire Chief Dick Klaus. If Klaus determines conditions are too dry for fireworks during the July holiday, commissioners said he is to set an alternate date.
Mayor Kent Steward, who voted Thursday night to ban fireworks in Hays, said he thought the county commissioners made a mistake.
"I would encourage the citizens of Hays to go into the county and buy fireworks and shoot them in the county," Steward said. "If they're OK with that, then that's fine with me.
"And they may yet change their minds on that, too."
The county's decision to allow the sale of fireworks led Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV to cast his vote, with reservations, to allow fireworks in Hays.
During last week's work session, Schwaller said he would base his vote on the decision made by Ellis County commissioners, saying the fireworks policy should be a countywide policy.
"Unfortunately, the decision that two of the commissioners made Monday night I think puts us in a very difficult situation here tonight," Schwaller said. "But I'm going to stick to that, and I'm going to not vote for the ban because I think we must work with the county because that's the only way this is going to be effective.
"I do think the overall importance to the community would be to pass the ban, but I cannot vote for it tonight."
A continued projection of drought conditions, City Manager Toby Dougherty said, led city staff's recommendation to ban fireworks. The city lags a couple of inches below its average precipitation level for the year, he said.
"The grass is somewhat green right now, but there's not a lot of progress on the drought front in the future," he said. "We just didn't want a repeat of last year where people felt like they'd had the rug pulled out from under them at the last minute."
In addition to drought considerations, Commissioner Ron Mellick who voted for the ban, said he based his decision on input commissioners received from vendors in August. Vendors at that time said commissioners should make their decision 30 to 45 days ahead of the holiday.
"The vendors showed up (at a city commission meeting) and said we need to know ahead of time because we have to line people up, get our inventory and do tents," he said.
One firework vendor attended the Thursday night meeting to give commissioners input.
Dan Thyfault, owner of Taz's Fireworks, told commissioners he didn't want to see fireworks banned this early in the season.
"I just don't want to shut them down all the way completely right now without giving them a chance because it may turn off good and wet," he said. "We just don't know."
Commissioner Shaun Musil, who voted not to ban fireworks, said he received a great deal of input from residents on the issue.
"I will tell you, 95 percent of the people I had, friends, and people I didn't know, come up to me and emailed me and almost all of them were for it (fireworks)," he said.
In the case adequate rains are received, Commissioner Eber Phelps recommended revisiting the ban in June during a special meeting where the ordinance could be amended to allow fireworks.
In other business, commissioners:
* Voted 4-1 to approve purchase of a shade structure for the Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex. The 24-foot-by-50-foot structure was bid at $15,644 by Athco from Lenexa.
* Unanimously voted to return a rezoning request for the proposed Luecke Addition back to the Hays Area Planning Commission.
* Approved an ordinance assessing the costs of sidewalk repair to three Hays properties. The total assessed costs are $1,919.
* Approved a resolution for a public hearing to be June 13 to consider special assessments.