Sammamish residents will face more punishing consequences for lighting fireworks in the city after the City Council unanimously approved new enforcement regulations at their May 1 meeting.
The new ordinance would increase the amount charged per violation and would allow officers to write tickets for citizens who violate the law.
Sammamish Police Chief Michelle Bennett and management analyst for the city manager’s office Mike Sugg presented the draft ordinance to the council and outlined the changes to the enforcement of the fireworks ban in the city.
Sugg explained that while fireworks are prohibited from being set off in the city of Sammamish unless a public display permit is acquired, violations of the rule have often gone unpunished due to the classification of the violation as a civil penalty. With a civil penalty, officers have no authority to enter onto private property.
“So every year the officers will be driving around and see fireworks being shot off from someone’s backyard to side yard,” Sugg said. “But there is no method for them to go back and cite that individual.”
The ordinance adds a definition of a “responsible person” as the recipient of ticket violations. This allows officers to issue a citation when they see a violation and without having to enter private property, although Chief Bennett said they would continue to notify the people responsible for the fireworks that they would be cited.
“Last year I did patrol around the city, there were some significant firework shows on Beaver Lake, Pine Lake and East Lake Sammamish, at least one of those if not more, we did knock on the door and basically the homeowner slammed the door in our face and said you can’t be here, which he was correct,” Bennett said. “At this point, we would still knock on the door and say, ‘Hey you can’t shoot off fireworks, is the homeowner here?’ If they slam the door in our face, refuse to open the door, that would be when we go back to the station at the end of the night, write up paperwork, case report, finding the address, probably take pictures of the scene and forward it to the prosecutor for review of filing of charges.”
Sugg said the change is almost identical to the city’s underage drinking enforcement, which was passed in 2015. If there is underage drinking at a property, the person who owns the property receives the ticket for allowing that illegal activity to occur.
The other change the ordinance proposes is an increase in the amount of money charged per violation. Currently, the city charges $500 for possession of fireworks and $1,000 for discharge. The new ordinance charges $1,000 for a first violation of discharging fireworks, $5,000 for a second violation and $10,000 for a third violation.
Sugg said that the Public Safety Committee determined that the current $1,000 charge was being factored into some of the repeat violators “cost of doing business” and made the decision to increase the fines to deter future use.
The ordinance does not go into full effect immediately. The improved citation methods are now law, but the increased fees will have an effective date of June 1, 2019. Sugg explained this was because any penalties that are more harsh than state law must have a one year waiting period before they are implemented in the city.