In a large area reserved for setting off fireworks, a trio of enthusiasts watch a shower of sparks in June 2018 as darkness falls at “Boom City,” the seasonal retail fireworks area on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. (Dan Bates / Herald file photo)

In a large area reserved for setting off fireworks, a trio of enthusiasts watch a shower of sparks in June 2018 as darkness falls at “Boom City,” the seasonal retail fireworks area on the Tulalip Indian Reservation. (Dan Bates / Herald file photo)

Editorial: County council should put fireworks vote on ballot

An advisory vote on a fireworks ban would give the council useful feedback as it considers a decision.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Yes, the Snohomish County Council should put an advisory vote on the November ballot that asks whether it should bar the sale, possession and use of consumer fireworks.

It’s time to light the fuse on a useful measurement of public sentiment, with opinion split between those who see fireworks as a patriotic expression of First Amendment rights and those who view them as a threat to life, limb, property and neighborhood peace and quiet.

The council discussed the matter earlier this week and scheduled a hearing to take public comment on the advisory vote at its July 24 meeting, The Herald’s Ian Davis-Lenoard reported. To put the question on the ballot, the council would have to make a decision by Aug. 6

While most of the cities in the county — Brier, Edmonds, Everett, Gold Bar, Lynnwood, Marysville, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo and Woodway — have adopted their own ordinances banning fireworks, the county council over the years has declined to enact its own ban for the unincorporated areas of the county. It last considered an advisory vote in 2016, rejecting the proposal, 3-2.

Let’s leave aside for now the arguments — pro and con — regarding a ban and concentrate on the advisory vote itself.

The issue, like fireworks themselves, can’t be ignored. The county’s 911 agency received 585 firework complaints in 2013 and just over 600 in 2014. By 2017, the number of complaints — to 911 and non-emergency numbers — totaled more than 1,000. Those calls more than tripled to 3,081 this year, Sno911 reported.

That jump in calls means either there are more fireworks, more people fed up with the noise, nuisance and threat from fireworks or both.

Local governments can’t turn to advisory votes for every question before them, but there are issues of long-standing debate where an assessment of public sentiment can help inform a council’s decision on how best to move forward.

Marysville, before adopting its fireworks ban in 2016, used an advisory vote in the 2015 General Election as it considered its options. Just over 59 percent of Marysville voters supported a citywide ban on fireworks that year.

An advisory vote — even one that’s non-binding — could be of great use to the county council, especially as it considers a recent petition from officials with South County Fire who are seeking a fireworks ban in unincorporated areas in southern areas of the county for which the fire district is responsible. The results of the election would provide a precinct-by-precinct look at voter support or opposition to such a ban, allowing it to consider the fire officials’ recommendation alongside wishes of voters in the fire district.

(Not every “advisory” vote is a good idea. The Herald Editorial Board has recommended to readers for several years not to participate in the advisory votes that show up regularly on their ballots regarding issues of state tax policy. The votes are a requirement of initiative booster Tim Eyman’s Initiative 970 that mandates them following tax legislation approved during the most-recent session of the Legislature. There’s nothing “advisory” in the bass-ackward votes, as lawmakers — elected by and representing the voters — have already adopted the bills. They’re simply a waste of ballot space.)

But on whether the county should ban fireworks or continue to allow their sale and use, an advisory measure on the ballot fittingly allows voters to register their wishes regarding a matter of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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