ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Those who think nothing changes in a small town are wrong. But sometimes it does take a while.
Hillsboro’s Ordinance 1064 allows the “sale, discharge, and possession of fireworks within the corporate city limits” this year-for the first time since they were banned in April 1985.
“I think originally there was a burning ban, and they outlawed fireworks and it just continued from then on,” said City Administrator Steven Garrett said about the 18-year ban.
But “from then on” will end this Fourth of July season.
“This was something that came up with individual council members,” Garrett said about the change. “They decided to allow the sale of fireworks basically because they had the authority to do so.”
Two organizations in Hillsboro have paid the $25 licensing fee to sell fireworks.
Boy Scout Troop 129 will have fireworks available in a tent just outside the Scout House in Memorial Park, while the Hillsboro High School Site Council will offer similar items at a tent erected where the Dairi-Ette Drive-in once stood along D Street just west of Ash.
While many look forward to creating their own “bombs bursting in air,” Garrett said it’s unfortunate the city’s water woes and the holiday season were so closely intertwined.
The local water shortage because of an algae problem at Marion Reservoir prompted a county-wide burn ban for one week, putting the sale and use of fireworks in jeopardy.
But the burn ban was lifted last Monday and, when Hillsboro went back on line with the reservoir Friday afternoon, the last potential obstacle disappeared.
Recent rains have conditions ideal for a safe holiday. Even so, Fire Chief Ben Steketee said there are things people can do to reduce the chances for accidental fires.
“Give yourself plenty of room,” Steketee said. “Make sure you set (the fireworks) down and follow the instructions.
“You must make sure you’re in an area that is free of any combustibles,” he added. “A big, open concrete or asphalt area is best.”
“Some of those things, even when they’re set on the ground, can fall over or shoot off to the side,” Steketee warned. “Make sure there aren’t any vehicles in the way either.”
Garrett said the city changed its mind on fireworks for basically two reasons.
“There is a measurable gain, and an immeasurable gain,” Garrett said. “We’ll have some sales tax generated from fireworks, but I’m not sure how much that will be. It will be somewhat negligible, and we’re not expecting to get rich off of this thing.
“The two groups that have permits will see the benefits from the profits generated by their sales, and that is a measurable gain.
“Immeasurable gains will be seen in the fact that folks can stay here in town, and I’ve actually had a couple calls from people out of town who are coming to Hillsboro to have their family get togethers,” Garrett said. “If people want to see some fireworks, they can see some and shoot them here. There won’t have to be a mass exodus to Peabody or McPherson to see them.
“There is that immeasurable convenience to folks locally since other communities don’t sell fireworks, so there will be people come here to buy a sparkler, or fountain, or black cat,” Garrett added. “They might just stop and fill gas or buy something to eat or drink, too.”
One thing that won’t be available at the local stands is bottle rockets. The sale and use of bottle rockets are strictly prohibited by the State of Kansas. Violating the law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100.
Garrett said the fireworks that could be seen in Hillsboro won’t be anything comparable to the neighboring towns that put on spectacular pyrotechnic shows.
“Hillsboro doesn’t want to get into something that’s as well run as the Peabody fireworks displays,” he said. “But if you want to do a little thing for your family in your backyard, that’s what we’ve opened the door to now.”
State and local ordinances stipulate the dates and times fireworks will be available.
Fireworks can be discharged in Hillsboro from July 1 through July 4. When they can be sold is regulated by the State of Kansas. Those dates range from June 27 through July 5.
“Our ordinance says you can shoot fireworks from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m.,” Garrett said. “But that’s going to be one of those things where people just need to use common sense and courtesy towards their neighbors.”
Garrett also said the sales locations of the fireworks was restricted to non-residential neighborhoods.
“We want to maintain a certain amount of safety,” he said.
Safety is exactly what Steketee is focusing on in the days prior to the Fourth of July holiday.
“The fire department is planning on having one last drill before the Fourth, to make sure we’re all aware of what we need to do and what we need to know,” he said.
On July 4, Steketee said his department will take extra precautions to ensure the safety of the residents of Hillsboro and their property.
“We have four fire fighters that have agreed to stay in Hillsboro on ready alert, just is case there is a problem,” he said.
Steketee said if people are cautious and use common sense, there shouldn’t be any problems.
“Just follow all the guidelines that have been laid out,” he said. “Make sure that you’re careful and have adult supervision.”