Council of governments looks to state for fireworks ban, transportation aid

Fireworks, regional transportation and vacation rentals led the list of topics addressed Thursday at the Island County Council of Governments’ monthly meeting. Three state lawmakers were in attendance, as were the usual representatives from the county, Coupeville, Langley and the port districts of Coupeville and South Whidbey.

“Even with a total burn ban this past summer, we were unable to have any local impact on the use of fireworks,” Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson told the legislators. Any fireworks restriction can’t go into effect sooner than one year.

“Our community was up in arms about it,” she said. “It was bizarre. I hope you’ll be able to make a change in state law.”

She also questioned why fireworks sold on tribal lands can be exploded on county property.

“I went to the governor” about those issues, responded Rep. Norma Smith (R-Clinton). She invited Price Johnson to submit proposed changes to the state law requiring the wait on emergency fireworks bans.

As to the sale of fireworks on tribal lands and their transport off those lands, “the challenge with tribal [matters] is that they are government to government,” Smith said. Preventing buyers from leaving tribal areas after they’ve bought fireworks would be difficult and would discourage nearly all sales, the group agreed.

Island County is still waiting for the county’s prosecuting attorney to deliver a draft of code allowing it to ban fireworks, Price Johnson noted in passing.

In other topics, Commissioner Jill Johnson asked the legislators to help the county qualify for regional transportation dollars. Island County once was part of a regional transportation planning organization with Skagit County, but that alliance is over, she said.

It’s impossible to travel by road from one of Island County’s islands to the other without going through Snohomish or Skagit county, or both, Johnson said.

“We’re proposing a simple language change that lets counties made up of islands not contiguously connected still qualify for regional funding,” she said. “There’s no way we can act as a self-contained county without regional transportation dollars.”

The change would have no fiscal impact, she said.

Rep. Dave Hayes (R-Camano Island) said he would investigate “if there are adjustments we can make that allow for more certainty at the local level.”

Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard raised the issue of homeowners who rent out their homes through online services like VRBO and Airbnb but are not registered as businesses and do not pay the 2 percent hotel/motel tax imposed on B&Bs.

“They get the benefit of the work the recognized businesses are paying for with their taxes, but they don’t have to pay them,” Conard said.

If Coupeville alone were to enforce the tax laws against non-taxpayers, that would push guests to houses elsewhere, she said. A state law would ensure uniformity among the island’s communities “and would also be beneficial to the state’s coffers,” she said.

Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor) also attended the meeting.