By Michael Pineda
Imagine Yukon celebrating Independence Day in a similar style to Mustang.
During a Tuesday study session, the city council took that leap of imagination with an apparent lack of enthusiasm to change the status quo.
Vice Mayor Jeff Wootton asked for the item to be placed on the study session agenda with a goal toward exploring the possibility of selling fireworks within city limits. Current sales take place just outside city limits on county property.
By the end of the session, the police and fire department, along with council members, had voiced concerns on allowing fireworks into the city limits.
“I wanted to start the discussion,” Wootton said. “I asked Mitch (assistant city manager Hort) one night how much money can we make if we sell fireworks in Yukon?”
Hort said he has been unable to do much research on the matter due to family issues and said he has been unable to get a definitive answer on potential sales tax return for the city.
Part of the lingering questions revolved around whether nonprofits pay sales tax or not. In looking at how Mustang operates during the July 4 holiday, City Attorney Roger Rinehart said the city of Mustang limits its vendors to non-profit, civic, charitable, fraternal, educational and religious organizations. Both sales and the firing off of fireworks are limited to June 29 to July 4.
Wootton said it was an idea to kick around.
“I know many people go and buy fireworks and go off to other places and shoot them off,” he said. “Then we bring up the discussion of do we want it in Yukon.”
Mayor Shelli Selby asked for input from both Yukon Fire Chief Shawn Vogt and Police Chief John Corn.
FIRST RESPONDER CONCERNS
“First of all, I am no fireworks expert but speaking for the fire department, we do have some concerns,” Vogt said. “Currently, with Freedom Fest, we kind of like that because it is centralized in the city. We can pre-plan that event, which we do. I call in extra help for that event. We can strategically place our units around that. And of course we have a pop zone and we don’t have to worry about people getting in there and getting hurt.
“But we do have to look at where we can have some spot fires. This year is proof. Both nights we had issues, and that is big.”
Vogt offered some statistics, pointing out there were 10,000 emergency room visits this year across the nation connected to firework accidents. He also added current fireworks are getting unpredictable and bigger each year.
“So that’s just a concern for us,” he said. “I think, you know, trying to cover the city because when people combine – it’s just going to be hard for us to make those calls. Because, you know, even with Freedom Fest, we call people in because we still have to take care of our citizens on the normal calls other than that festival going on. Our citizen’s safety is just our main concern.”
Vogt also made one last point. Allowing fireworks within the city could hit residents in the pocketbook. The city would lose a half-point on the Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating, which helps determine home insurance rates.
Corn said the main concern for the police department would be with property damage. Other concerns include personal injury and vandalism. As it stands, there is an increase of 25 to 30 calls July 3 and 4.
“The question is how many things do we not get called on?” Corn said. “We will drive down the street on any of those two nights of our festivities going on and people are discharging fireworks inside the city limits. The officers try to do a great job of trying to stop and educate those people – maybe they are new to town.”
Selby added her own concern that fireworks within the city could be an added trigger for veterans. She said she had spoken with someone within the Mustang government who said they did not like their city’s celebration. Selby said that person had told her it was like a war zone and they did not like to go to the park because it was dangerous.
FREEDOM FEST FUTURE
In addition to veteran concerns, Selby said people would be at risk with fireworks going off in the park.
“We are one of the cities that everyone comes to, it brings an influx of people to our town and revenue to our town as people stop and buy food here, shop here and get to know our city better,” she said. “I love our third and fourth and I would hate to see it end.”
When asked for her input, City Manager Tammy Kretchmar said she was also concerned about safety and did not want people walking through the crowd at Freedom Fest popping off fireworks. She also did not feel there would be much of a financial impact from sales in the city.
“I do not feel it would bring that much sales tax revenue because it is a cash business, that is all I will say on that,” she said.
One other council member, Donna Yanda, weighed in on the subject and voiced opposition to any changes.
“I just think it puts our city at a tremendous risk, and I am not in favor of it at all,” she said. “I hate to see it take away from our Freedom Fest, and I honestly don’t want to hear them all night.”