Fourth of July will test city fireworks rule

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  With the Fourth of July holiday less than a month away, the city of Elizabethton should get the first major test of whether an ordinance adopted last year legalizing retail fireworks sales will turn the town into a temporary tent city for retailers during the next few weeks.
  A divided Elizabethton City Council voted 4-3 in July to adopt an ordinance permitting the retail sale of fireworks within city limits. The ordinance permits retail sales of fireworks between June 20 to July 5, and Dec. 10 through Jan. 2 coinciding with the Fourth of July and New Year's Day holidays.
  The ordinance requires a prospective retailer to apply for a city-issued permit to sell fireworks. The license costs $300 and is valid for the current calendar year beginning Jan. 1, 2004. Each license applicant must submit proof of liability insurance and a valid state-issued permit to sell fireworks.
  "We don't issue anything until we have a copy of their state fireworks license," said Bradley Moffitt, the city's director of finance and city clerk. The city received two requests for application packets this week, but no retailers submitted applications through Thursday.
  An applicant is required to carry a minimum of $2 million in product liability insurance and $1 million in general liability insurance. The city government must be named as an insured party on a retailer's general liability policy. The ordinance permits only Class C consumer fireworks to be sold and prohibits fireworks wholesalers from selling in the city.
  The ordinance prohibits the discharge of fireworks within 600 feet of a school, church or other inhabited structure and sets a 50-foot boundary between a fireworks retailer's business and the nearest structure.
  A retail dealer must also acquire a business license from the city and county government to operate. The city issues two types of business licenses for transient vendors with headquarters outside Tennessee and state-based retailers.
  Doris Carrier, with the city's Finance Department, said the transient business license costs $55 and applies only to out-of-state fireworks vendors. The license is valid for 14 days. Transient vendors must also submit their gross sales totals to the city government for sales tax assessment.
  "They're not going to pay taxes anywhere else in Tennessee," said Carrier. "The city gets a portion of that, and a portion goes to the state."
  Retailers based in Tennessee are required to apply for a separate city-issued business license at a cost of $20.
  The Carter County Clerk's office reported Thursday only three retailers had applied for business licenses to sell fireworks. The county requires a $20 application fee for a business license.
  Elizabethton and Mountain City are the only two towns in Northeast Tennessee that permit the sale of consumer fireworks within city limits. Carter and Johnson counties permit the sale of fireworks.
   City fire and police officials opposed the ordinance out of public safety concerns as did several citizens who lobbied council members at meetings in June and July to reject the ordinance.
  The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates banning public sales of all fireworks and encourages parents to attend professional fireworks displays instead of using fireworks at home. In a publication released in March, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimated that approximately 9,700 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms during 2003 for injuries associated with fireworks. Over half the injuries were burns and most of the injuries involved the hands, eyes, and head. About half of the victims were under 15 years of age according to the CPSC report.
  Consumer fireworks can be legally sold in 38 states while sparklers and non-consumer items can be sold in seven states. Arizona, New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, Georgia, Rhode Island, and New Jersey ban all types of consumer fireworks.