Commission united on fireworks issue
By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- City commissioners on Wednesday unanimously backed a move to ban the sale of illegal fireworks in Pinellas County.
The 5-0 vote came shortly after city Fire Marshal Randy Hinder told them two fires have been caused already this year by kids in Clearwater using illegal fireworks.
"We've had two incidents since January," he said. "It is happening."
City commissioners adopted a resolution supporting an illegal fireworks ban now being considered by Pinellas County commissioners.
The proposed county ban would close a loophole that allows amateurs to buy and set off fireworks. The measure would not prohibit commercial or professional displays.
State fireworks law bans fireworks that launch or explode. But the law contains exemptions that allow people to set off fireworks during work on railroads or to scare away birds at fish hatcheries or farms.
Local fireworks stores require customers to sign forms saying they are complying with the law. But many people don't pay attention to the fine print. Others simply lie.
County Commissioner Ken Welch has drafted a new measure meant to crack down on such illegal sales.
Modeled on a similar ordinance in Polk County, the plan would require fireworks vendors to show proof that customers meet at least one of the exemptions.
Police then could immediately shut down stores that can't supply such proof.
On Wednesday, Welch asked city commissioners for support, saying his plan is a good tool for law enforcement.
"It won't be a 100 percent solution," he said. "No law is a 100 percent solution."
Welch said he intends to take his campaign on the road this month seeking support from St. Petersburg's City Council and Largo's commission.
Said Clearwater Commissioner Bill Jonson: "This is a good start."
Added Mayor Brian Aungst: "Hopefully, this will help."
In other business, city commissioners:
-- Approved a $450,000 bailout for the Harborview Center to cover financial shortfalls since 2001. The payment will come from city reserves and erase accumulated debt from the beleaguered conference hall, which saw shrinking revenues after Sept. 11.
-- Approved a three-year contract with the city's civilian labor union.Under the deal, roughly 950 city employees will receive 4 percent raises in each of the next three years.
The labor agreement will continue a provision to cover 100 percent of employee health care benefits and include targeted raises for 205 employees identified in a recent wage study as working for below-average pay.
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