Citizens — some noting even the fear raccoons have experienced — have come out for and against fireworks usage and have inundated recent government meetings in Alcoa and Maryville.
During Alcoa’s Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday and Maryville’s Nov. 5 City Council meeting, several fireworks vendors and city residents gave personal and technical reasons why decreasing fireworks usage was either a good or bad idea.
Amended ordinances in both cities now will allow fireworks to deploy only from 11 a.m. to 11. p.m. July 3-4 and Dec. 31 to Jan. 1.
Tracy Parker of Parker Family Fireworks appeared at both meetings, explaining her and her family’s personal background in the fireworks business and how decreasing firework usage from 40 days to four would stifle their sales, especially during the Fourth of July season.
Parker told Alcoa commissioners Tuesday she understood there was no reversing the change and wanted to help by passing out fliers to fireworks buyers, letting them know about the legal changes.
But it was still a surprise to her.
“I felt like it was a knee-jerk reaction to cut it down from two weeks to two days,” Parker said to Alcoa commissioners. “And at the same time I’m feeling grateful we’re able to do it at all.”
That set of two weeks — totaling exactly 40 days a year of selling — used to be periods of time surrounding both the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve when Blount Countians could both buy and set off recreational explosives.
Vendors will still be allowed to sell for those 40 days but are dubious about how many customers they’d actually draw, especially if the holidays don’t fall on a weekend.
“It’s a hard business to be in anyway,” Parker said in the Alcoa meeting. “It’s not like it was 20 years ago. The cost of fireworks is pretty expensive now. The (Chinese) tariff that’s going to be imposed is 30%.”
Between tariffs and limited legal celebration times, Parker said her business is going to hurt.
‘The most complaints’
Though petitions from vendors did not affect the votes, Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor said there was a possibility of revisiting the ordinance in the future.
“Even if we vote it to two days, that doesn’t mean that it’s set in stone; that means that we could revisit it,” Taylor said during Maryville’s Nov. 5 council meeting. “This is City Council. This is not something that has to go through a really long process.”
But Maryville councilmen remained adamant about the feedback they received that prompted the changes in the first place.
“I was shocked,” Councilman Andy White told fellow council members after Parker’s presentation. He explained that he and others had received a great deal of complaints during the holiday and felt the need to uphold the change. “I didn’t think it would change much at all when we changed this and legalized it,” he said. “I’ve done this for 13 years. This is far and away the most complaints I’ve ever had on anything we’ve ever done here. It’s not even close.”
Councilman Fred Metz agreed, noting the council had a contract with the city’s residents who trusted council members to make decisions about things like land use and financial issues. “In return,” Metz said, “when they are adamantly opposed against something, we have to trust them.”
Maryville resident Ruth Holloway spoke up for residents who had raised concerns, thanking council members for restricting fireworks shooting time but saying she was still worried.
“At the time, it was very traumatic,” Holloway said. “And it’s still traumatic. And in the next couple weeks, I expect it’s going to be traumatic again.”
Holloway said she and many others are afraid for themselves, the safety of their neighborhoods and the well-being of pets and wildlife.
She said she found seven raccoons huddled on her porch during July 4 celebrations.
No one spoke out against fireworks at the Alcoa meeting, and commissioners did not publicly respond to Parker’s comments.
But during the meeting, Joey Roust, a regional manager with TNT Fireworks — a company that has locations in every state in the U.S. that sells fireworks — spoke out in support of one of Parker’s propositions: Give a four-day allowance around the holidays, not just two days.
“Her point was a very good point,” Roust said, adding Clarksville, Tennessee has similar rules, except fireworks there are allowed from July 1-4. “It divides it out, gives them a better span to shoot.”
Roust — whose TNT tents were set up at both Blount County Walmarts — said he would support whatever Alcoa decided to go with, but recommended the four-day-per-holiday model.
Roust said TNT will not be setting up tents for the New Year’s season because it will save him some money in Alcoa.
The city also has increased its license fee per season $1,000. Add that to the application review fee of $150 and the city will make more than $2,000 each year from each vendor. This is a plus for Alcoa since City Manager Mark Johnson said the city makes no sales tax revenue on fireworks.
Parker said her business has not decided whether or not it will open booths in either city until July 2020.