PRINCETON — With Fourth of July fireworks season fast approaching, a question of enforcement of a relatively new Mercer County ordinance arose on Wednesday.
The ordinance, adopted in June of 2019 by the County Commission, sets specified dates and times when fireworks can be ignited within the county limits.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office said it learned “via Facebook” that the department would be responsible for enforcing the ordinance.
The Sheriff’s Office questioned enforcement and adjudication of the ordinance without a county court system in place.
“The Mercer County Commission has not established a court system that will hear cases involving county ordinances,” the press release stated. “Similar ordinances in the past have included barking dogs and loud noise ordinances, which also could not be enforced. The commission does not have a system in place to hear cases involving infraction of these ordinances.”
The statement goes on to read, in bold, all-caps text, “A county court must be established to enforce these ordinances.”
The Sheriff’s Office said the county magistrate court has refused to hear cases involving county ordinances due to the fact they are not based on state code.
“These nuisance ordinances have been deflected unfairly by the commission to the Sheriff’s Department knowing full well that they have to create a court system,” the press release states.
However, Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett said the fireworks ordinance could be enforced in the magistrate system under the state’s disorderly conduct statute.
A query to the West Virginia Supreme Court about enforcement of the ordinance was answered with a nod back to the local ordinance which notes, among its final lines, “The Mercer County Commission will hear cases involving alleged violations.”
Puckett said the ordinance was adopted last year in an effort “to encourage everyone to be a good neighbor,” and to have accountability and safety. “We don’t want to hamper anybody’s freedoms — we just want accountability and to help solve the problem.”
When drafting the ordinance Puckett said the commission worked with veteran’s groups, who noted the effects of fireworks on those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and animal welfare activists.
The ordinance sets specific dates and times when fireworks can be set off in the county. They include:
— New Year’s Eve during the hours of 9 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.
— New Year’s Day during the hours of 12 a.m. and 12:30 a.m.
— June 24 through July 7 (10 days prior and three days after Independence Day) between the hours of 9 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.
— July 5 between midnight and 12:30 a.m.
Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor offense carrying a fine up to $500.
Puckett described the directive as “a good, solid ordinance,” moderate in its discretion, that seeks to act as a deterrent to those disrespectful of other county residents.
“At some point we have to get back to being the grandmother on the front porch,” Puckett said. “We shouldn’t have to look to law enforcement (to enforce fireworks ordinances). At some point let’s get back to being respectful of each other. Our society is not indicative of who we should be. We have to get back to who West Virginia is.”
Yet with regard to the fireworks ordinance, the Sheriff’s Office noted manpower issues and the need for regulation to be passed through the state Legislature.
“The Mercer County Sheriff’s Department carries a large burden in our day-to-day assignments,” its press release stated. “Deputies respond to numerous ‘shots fired’ calls during this time of year, not knowing if it is fireworks being let off or an actual shooting. There is an obvious need for regulation for fireworks, however this must be passed through our state’s legislative body. A law must be passed for deputies to enforce.”
The Sheriff’s Office encouraged residents to attend the next county commission meeting on July 14 to discuss the establishment of a court system for these ordinances.
— Contact Samantha Perry at email@example.com