Holiday passes before city decides on fireworks ordinance

By Thomas Wilson

   Fireworks peddlers have folded their tents.
   While the rockets red glare is over, Elizabethton City Council will decide on whether next year's Fourth of July will include legal fireworks sales inside the city.
   Fireworks are legally sold in Carter County. Perhaps ironically, for the first time, two of the county's volunteer fire departments are selling and managing fireworks for a city business.
   In exchange for a percentage of the profits, the Stoney Creek and Hampton-Valley Forge volunteer fire departments have taken on management of Edens Fireworks this Fourth of July season.
   "Mr. Edens approached us about two week ago and offered it to us and the Hampton (department)," said Roger Lambert, with the Stoney Creek fire department. "Hopefully, we can continue to do it." Lambert said the departments were receiving a percentage of sales as a donation in exchange for managing the products.
   The city ordinance passed on first reading at the Council's June 12 meeting. Council members chose the most stringent ordinance advocated by city fire department officials, who are opposing the legalization of fireworks sales and use within the city entirely.
   All seasonal retailers must obtain a $300 permit from the city while a public fireworks display requires a $100 permit. City permits would only be issued if an applicant also presented a similar fireworks license issued by the state fire marshal's office. Seasonal retailers must also have $2 million in product liability and $1 million in general liability insurance.
   Edens previously sold fireworks seasonally within the Elizabethton city limits under the non-conforming use provision, more commonly known as "grandfathering." The fireworks inventory being sold was purchased by Edens, not the departments, Lambert said.
   Lambert said he was unsure if the department would take on managing fireworks inside the city next year if the ordinance passed. Despite potential risks posed by fireworks -- such as fires -- he didn't necessarily feel that a fire department being involved in the sale of fireworks was odd.
   "We stress the safety part of it," Lambert said.
   The ordinance allows the seasonal selling and discharge of fireworks from June 20 to July 5, and Dec. 10 through Jan. 2 every year. Fireworks may be discharged between 12 noon and 11 p.m. with the only exception of New Year's holiday when the time limit extends to 12:30 a.m. on New Year's Day.
   Year-round sales of fireworks are prohibited by the ordinance. However, the ordinance does not specifically ban the use of fireworks year round.
   "The intention was to allow people to shoot them only within those two time periods," said Mayor Sam LaPorte. "That is why he had the 12:30 a.m. New Year's Day time limit."
   LaPorte said the ordinance could be amended to ban use of fireworks outside the two designated time periods if need be.
   The Carter County Clerk's office issued nine business licenses for the sale of fireworks in the county this year. Of that number, two licensees have their addresses based inside Carter County: Discount Produce and Fireworks in Roan Mountain and Edens Fireworks in Elizabethton.
   A business license holder may have multiple locations within the county, but any fireworks retailer selling within the county is required to obtain a business license from the clerk's office.
   All businesses selling property and taxable services must obtain a sales and use tax "Certificate of Registration" from the Tennessee Department of Revenue. After the application is submitted, the department establishes an account for the individual or other legal entity for the address indicated on the application.
   State law requires any business engaging in activity at more than one location to pay the minimum sales tax at each site and report gross sales and tax due for each separate location.
   More than 125 businesses have seasonal licenses to sell fireworks in state through the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.
   Paula Wade with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance said seasonal fireworks retailers must get a permit signed by a county's executive before applying for a state license. "Unless you've got that signature, you can't even apply," said Wade.
   A retailer files the application with a $100 fee, the application is for the firm at that address and is location specific. "Any fireworks stand has to have a separate permit for each location it goes to," Wade said.
   State and local option sales tax are levied on the sale of fireworks as with any other good under state tax structure, according to the Tennessee Department of Revenue. A business owner must register for the business tax in the county and municipality, if applicable, of their permanent location. The business must remit the business tax on all its gross receipts statewide at the rate of that location, according to the department of revenue.