PITTSBURG — Michelle Sellars of Frontenac spoke during the public input period at the Tuesday Pittsburg City Commission meeting, questioning the city’s permit fee for fireworks sellers.
Sellars, who along with her husband Doug operates BKC Fireworks, which sets up a fireworks tent near Ron’s Supermarket in Pittsburg during the summer fireworks season, said she approached the commission last year and asked if it would lower the city’s permit fee for selling fireworks, which was raised from $250 to $5,000 in 2018.
For the eight days in late June and early July that the Sellars’ fireworks tent was open, that comes out to $625 per day, she pointed out.
“No other business license fees are anywhere near that amount and if they were there would be no businesses located in the city,” she said.
“We are a mom and pop business. We purchase our fireworks from Jake’s, as well as other importers. We do not sell on consignment or on a percentage from another parent company, as most firework locations do. We lease the lot, pay for it and provide the required insurances, rent the tent, and purchase every firework in the tent,” Sellars said.
“In 2018 we sold $15,222.41 in Pittsburg and paid $1,370.02 in sales tax. Our total profit from the Pittsburg location was $987.68. It is difficult to understand why the city should profit significantly more than our business did,” she continued.
“Is the day of mom and pop business over due to the pressure of big business and government?” Sellars asked.
She added that she had compared several cities’ fees, concentrating on those with a population between 10,000 and 40,000. Of those, Sellars said, Pittbsurg had the third highest fee, behind Derby and Andover, both suburbs of Wichita.
Later in the meeting, in addressing concerns about the firework sales permit fee, City Manager Daron Hall said the city also looked at multiple cities to come up with its $5,000 fee, though he didn’t know how its list of cities compared to Sellars’.
“We got it because it was the most common and in the middle, and I know a lot of it depends on what community you compare yourself with but sometimes it’s size and sometimes it’s location,” Hall said. “Being outside of Wichita can help you on one side of the argument, but the other way to look at it is we’re the big boy in southeast Kansas and everybody’s coming here,” Hall said, adding, however, that the city would not want the fee to drive business away from the community.
Mayor Patrick O’Bryan said he thought it was “kind of important to note that we haven’t had any other concerted complaints about this issue,” adding that “I think it’s also important to note that this money gets spent to provide our citizens with the Fourth of July fireworks display.”
Out of $25,000 collected in firework sales permit fees last year, about $20,000 went to pay for the city’s July 4 fireworks show, Hall said. The fee “should be tied to our fireworks show,” he said, “and it should be tied to the level of service that we have in this city for fire stations, which is an ISO 2, which is the second highest you can have, and it’s not without an investment from the taxpayers in that.”
Asked by Commissioner Chuck Munsell if anyone had paid the permit fee yet this year, which is not due until 15 days before retail firework sales start, Hall said “I doubt it.”
Munsell said his main concern in response to Sellars’ comments was that the fee “would drive small businesses like theirs out of business because they can’t compete with the other ones that can afford to pay that fee,” adding that “I’ve had people from church groups contact me and say they’d like to have been able to do some kind of fundraiser for their church but they can’t afford to pay $5,000.”
Commissioner Sarah Chenoweth said after hearing the various comments on the fireworks sales permit fee she had some questions for city staff, and requested that the subject be brought back for discussion as an agenda item at the next commission meeting. Other commissioners agreed.