The Benton Personnel, Health and Safety Committee discussed the city's fireworks ordinance at its meeting on Monday.
Council Member Jeff Morrow told the committee he has had people ask him about the city's fireworks ordinance. He felt the ordinance, which is Ordinance 32 of 2013, looks reasonable.
"I still see bad behavior and people not following the ordinance," Morrow said.
He wanted to know how other cities mitigated bad behavior.
The council asked Benton Fire Chief Bill Ford for his thoughts. While there have not been any fires or injuries reported, Ford said "it is a matter of time." He added that he does not like the use of fireworks by individuals and can't condone it, though he is fine with organized displays, such as the one put on by the city. He also feels people don't follow the rules set by the ordinance.
He pointed out that other cities Benton's size don't allow fireworks.
Council Member Jocelyn Cash told the council in her ward, Ward 2, there are many houses made of wood in close proximity to each other.
"(The fireworks) sound like little bombs," she said.
She is concerned for the elderly, sick and those with pets. She also said by the time someone calls the police to report someone using fireworks after the permitted time, the individuals have already scattered.
Council Member Steve Lee said before the ordinance was passed and fireworks were completely banned in the city, people still bought fireworks in other places and use them in the city anyway. Lee would like to put a measure on the general election ballot in November to ask the voters how they feel about it.
He told the council they were elected to do the will of the people and putting it on the ballot would let them know what the people want.
Council Member Frank Baptist told the council he has had several complaints from people who can't get their children to sleep through the noise and people who worry the fireworks put their homes at risk.
Baptist said there are other ways to show patriotism.
"The city spends tens of thousands of dollars to put on a more than adequate display," he said.
Benton Police Chief Scotty Hodges said he is not either for or against the issue, but he pointed out, there were DWI stops before the county went wet. He worries that if there were a ban on fireworks his department would have to deal with even more calls. Right now when they get calls they tell the people to put the fireworks down and disperse.
Council Member Steve Lee said instead of a ban, maybe they should restrict the type of fireworks to reduce the noise. He feels the ban is not the answer, but would like to see a compromise.
Benton resident Patricia Ashley, who lives in the Ralph Bunche Community, told the committee she has had people put fireworks in a shoe box near her fence.
"You go home to be safe," she said. "People go home to rest and enjoy peace."
She said she would rather see prevention than conflict resolution.
Ashley gave the members of the committee a story from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about a fight that broke out using fireworks in Little Rock where people were hurt.
Resident Carl West pointed out that this happened in Little Rock where fireworks are already banned.
Bill Donnor, committee chair, asked Mayor Tom Farmer how much it would cost to add this issue to the November election. Farmer was not sure, but said he would look into it. He pointed out the city will already have other issues on the ballot.
West told the committee that the ordinance was originally brought back because the public wanted it.
Farmer said Bryant has it in the city's ordinance that the police can take up fireworks from offenders if they break the code. He wanted to know why Benton doesn't.
Some members of the council were concerned if that would be legal.
Morrow told the committee they have a few options. They can leave it as it is, make changes, ban it or put in on the general ballot. He is against leaving the ordinance as it is. He would like to see it tightened up.
Baptist would like to make it where fireworks are permitted only one day.
The committee tabled the discussion until the next meeting. In the meantime, the members are going to look into if the issue can be put on the ballot, if the city can confiscate fireworks from those who violate the code, limiting the type of fireworks and penalties for violating the code.
The council's discussion of the open burning ordinance will be in an upcoming issue of The Saline Courier.
Committee Member Evelyn Reed was absent from the meeting. Several members of the council who are not on the committee were in attendance.
All meetings are open to the public and attendance is encouraged.