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Illegal fireworks a problem in Montgomery : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Illegal fireworks a problem in Montgomery
Increasing fines for violators among options under village board consideration

by John Etheredge


Montgomery Village Board members and Police Chief Daniel Meyers are in agreement that illegal fireworks are a problem in the village, but how the village and its police department will respond to the problem remains to be determined.

This past week several board members voiced support for increasing the minimum fine for those convicted of possessing and/or setting off illegal fireworks.

The board, however, did not reach a consensus on a course of action and agreed to Village President Matt Brolley's suggestion they let the issue "simmer for a month or two" and then return to it later this year.

Under current village ordinance, anyone convicted of possession or setting off illegal fireworks is subject to a fine up to $250.

Police Chief Daniel Meyers told the board that village police receive fireworks complaints from residents every summer around the Fourth of July. He said this year the complaints began in mid-June and are continuing this month.

Meyers said a large number of illegal fireworks complaints come from homeowners in subdivisions on the village's far west side, west of Orchard Road.

Referring to the west side fireworks offenders, Meyers said, "They're spending thousands of dollars and they drive to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio (to purchase fireworks) because Illinois has one of the most strict fireworks laws."

Village Attorney Steve Andersson advised the board state law would allow them to amend the fireworks ordinance to establish a minimum fine.

Meyers suggested the board could consider increasing the minimum fine for first and multiple fireworks offenders.

Meyers said the board could set the minimum fine for first time offenses before 10 p.m. at $250 and $500 for first time offenses after 10 p.m.

The fine for multiple or repeat offenders could be set at $750, under Meyers' proposal.

He noted that it is difficult for police to catch and then successfully prosecute a fireworks offenders.

"If we ticket them and we go to court we need to have a witness say the suspect lit the fireworks off, and that witness has to be available to come to court and testify with us," Meyers said.

Andersson reminded the board that if they establish a minimum fine, it will be up to judges to determine the actual amount a convicted individual will pay.

"It is not unheard of for judges, after the fact, when nobody gets hurt to say, 'Well, that (fine) seems rather excessive, I'll enter the judgment for $500 and suspend $400 of it," Andersson said, adding, "That's not uncommon."

To help remedy the proliferation of fireworks, Meyers, recommended the board consider:

•Creating partnerships with local fire departments, schools, churches and homeowners associations;

•Increasing awareness and educating residents on the dangers of illegal fireworks;

•Explain the costs associated with emergency room visits resulting from the use of illegal fireworks; and,

•Partner with the village's code enforcement officer for additional illegal fireworks enforcement.

Several board members reported receiving calls from residents over the past few months upset about fireworks being set off in their neighborhoods, upsetting dogs and waking up sleeping children.

Board member Denny Lee said in some neighborhoods residents set up "complete displays that go on for an hour."

Lee added, "Those are the guys I don't have a problem fining and for the repeat offenders it could be even higher because they are the ones you have to teach a lesson that they can't keep doing it."

Board member Stan Bond said he followed an online discussion involving a local resident who was shooting off fireworks. Someone, he said, asked the resident if he had been fined last year.

"He said, 'Yeah, $50, so what,'" Bond said, adding, "I can't help but think if that fine had been $500 he might not have been a repeat offender this year. But the fine did not discourage him at the $50 level and, God bless our police, they caught him and wrote a ticket like they are supposed to, but somehow the medicine wasn't strong enough."

Board member Doug Marecek said he would like to make sure village police can enforce the ordinance.

Marecek said one of his neighbors recently called 911 to report fireworks activity in his neighborhood and was told that without an exact address police would not be dispatched.

Meyers told the board that in some instances fireworks offenders have lookouts posted for police.

When questioned by the board, he confirmed police could utilize unmarked squad cars and bicycles patrols to enforce the ordinance.

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