More fireworks sellers despite cities? restrictions

DES MOINES ? The home fireworks business is booming, despite cities? efforts to crack down on them.

More vendors are selling consumer-grade fireworks in Iowa than last year, when home fireworks displays were legalized for the first time in nearly a century. This is despite some cities deciding, after last year?s experiences, to limit the times fireworks can be displayed, or ban them completely.

Roughly 700 vendors are expected to sell fireworks this Fourth of July season, according to the Iowa fire marshal?s office, which oversees the certification and regulation of vendors. That is up from 664 in the 2017 season.

When the state legalized fireworks displays, it allowed municipalities to add local restrictions. Because the new law was approved shortly before Independence Day, most left display times largely untouched, as a sort of trial run. But council members heard complaints about excessive noise, upset pets and litter. So they took steps to curtail display times for this year.

For example:

Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, the state?s largest cities, banned home fireworks within city limits.

Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Iowa City banned home fireworks displays within city limits.

Marion limited the displays to July 4.

Davenport and Sioux City limited legal displays to July 3 and July 4.

?This is something the state pushed down onto us, so they could make some revenue. We were supposed to pick up the pieces and deal with it, police it, which does cost us a lot of money,? Waterloo council member Bruce Jacobs said at a recent meeting, during which the council narrowly voted to keep its ban in place for the 2018 season.

But state law does not allow local governments to ban the sale of fireworks, so vendors have not been deterred.

Mitchell, Iowa-based Flashing Thunder Fireworks has 10 sites in Iowa this year, up from four in 2017, co-owner Katie Mostek said.

?Fireworks were illegal before (2017) and people still bought them. They just went out of state. I don?t think (the cities? restrictions) are going to deter people from buying them,? Mostek said.

Iowa Fireworks Company also grew its footprint this year, going from 21 sites last year to 43 this year, said co-owner Jeremiah Terhark.

Sellers also said while many large cities banned or restricted home fireworks displays, they remain legal outside city limits.

?There are still a lot of areas and communities in Iowa and outside city limits where you can use the product,? Terhark said. ?That helps (sellers), for sure.?

Mostek said the cities? restrictions are OK because rural settings are better for fireworks displays.

?That?s where it should be anyway,? she said.

Terhark said the cities? restrictions could impact sales this year, although he said it is too soon to make any projections. He hears from customers upset their city cut back on legal display times.

?I think we will definitely see an effect,? Terhark said. ?There?s some discontent there, so I do think it will affect sales.?

Sellers had more time this year to apply for and receive certification, another factor that may be driving the increase in vendors.

Last year, the state fire marshal?s office scrambled to create a permitting process and work through hundreds of applications in the 23 days between legalization and the first open sales period.

This year, businesses could prepare. Licensing started June 1 for brick-and-mortar stores and June 13 for temporary sites.

?Year 1 was kind of a hassle, as far as getting the permits from the state, because nobody knew what was going on. ... There was a lot of last-minute, trying to get things figured out,? Mostek said.

Mostek and Terhark said they notice more out-of-state companies selling in Iowa this year.

The state fire marshal?s office said other states also saw an increase in the second year, followed by a drop off in the third.

The state revenue department tracks sales tax collected from various types of personal property, but not fireworks.

The state?s non-partisan fiscal estimating agency estimated fireworks sales revenue in Iowa would be roughly $24.8 million and state sales tax revenue would be $1.5 million in the state budget year from July 2017 through June 2018.

The fire marshal?s office reported taking in $238,400 in licensing fees for fireworks retailers during the 2017 Fourth of July season.