City Council set to regulate fireworks; officially eliminates fire fee

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Responding to a deluge of complaints from the public over the course of the Fourth of July holiday period, Savannah City Council took the first tentative steps toward new restrictions on the use of fireworks inside City limits.

"The public needs to know... that we are taking it seriously," said Alderwoman Carol Bell at a workshop session prior to last Thursday's regular Council meeting.

As of July 1 of this year, state law allows individual cities to pass restrictions on fireworks as long as it is part of an overall municipal noise ordinance.

Alderman Julian Miller said the reason regulating fireworks is necessary is that some people "take great delight" in disturbing their neighbors.

"The unfortunate thing is, as with just about anything else, the individuals who choose to take advantage of a situation to make their neighbors miserable," he said.

In a rare step, Council allowed Parkside resident Janet Levine to speak to the workshop session about her experiences with the issue — mostly, with a single household nearby which lit off fireworks several hours a day, for days on end prior to the holiday.

"We cannot tolerate living in what sounds like a war zone during non-holiday times," said Levine, who struggles with PTSD and has a service dog who is also "traumatized" by the fireworks, in her words.

"We need restrictions to protect our residents with all kinds of stress issues, from the current free-for-all state law," Levine said.

Alderman Van Johnson said that state law is frustratingly vague.

"There appears to be an absolute lack of clarity on what state law is... my concern is our ability to enforce it. Police resources are stretched," he said.

Alderman John Hall said the fireworks situation in the neighborhoods had become "ridiculous" and that "People are fed up with this."

He said if action isn't taken, "People are going to get confrontational. It's not going to be pretty."

Alderwoman Shabazz said that in nearly 60 years of living where she lives, "I have never experienced what I've experienced in the last two days" with regards to fireworks. "We've got to do something."

In other Council news, at the regular meeting they voted unanimously to formally repeal the controversial fire fee, as promised at the prior meeting in which they accepted the will of the public.

City Manager Rob Hernandez again attempted to defend the fee, saying "perhaps... one of the greatest wins" was how many citizens formulated fire escape/safety plans in order to qualify for discounts on the fee.

Savannah Fire & Emergency Services "spent over 5,000 hours interacting with the public about fire safety," he said.

City Council opted not to reverse the charter change which enabled the fire fee however, meaning the City could establish similar user fees in the future if desired.

Hernandez warned Council that, "I don't want anyone to leave here today with a rosy picture of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget."

In response to Hernandez saying that "growth in revenue hasn't kept pace with the growth in expenditures, Alderwoman Bell said, "Our citizens want a Cadillac on a Volkswagen budget."

Also: In a move guaranteed to put a smile on historic preservationists faces — at least for the time being, the developer of the lot at Oglethorpe and Habersham has agreed to delay and reexamine project in order to attempt to comply with the City's request to restore that section of the historic lane, which was essentially destroyed in the 1980s.

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