The City Council voted unanimously last week to stiffen penalties for individuals cited for violating the city’s fireworks ordinance.
The revamped ordinance was approved by a 3-0 vote. Councilman David Romero was absent from last Wednesday’s meeting.
Despite the severe fire season predicted for this summer, Fire Chief Phillip Mares told the Council that under state law, the city cannot ban fireworks outright. He said that as it relates to the types of fireworks prohibited, the city’s ordinance is already as strict as it can be.
But he told the governing body that it did, however, have the latitude to increase fines for those caught violating the ordinance. He asked the Council to do just that, given the need to deter the use of illegal fireworks, particularly during the current drought.
Mares said the current fine for unlawful use of fireworks, first offense, is $15, which he characterized as “a joke” considering that many people go out and purchase hundreds of dollars worth of fireworks.
In general, fireworks that go higher than 10 feet, such as bottle rockets, are illegal, Mares said.
The ordinance that the Council approved raises the fine for first offense unlawful use to $150; a second offense fine is increasing from $30 to $300; and a third and subsequent offense will jump from $50 to $500.
Those caught selling unlawful fireworks will also face stiffer fines. A first offense is jumping to $100 from $50; A second offense will increase to $300 from $100 and a third offense will jump to $500 from $150.
The fire department proposed the new fines after reviewing penalties imposed by other cities in New Mexico.
Las Vegas resident Lee Einer voiced support for the increased fines.
“If our watershed goes up in a catastrophic wildfire, we’re done here,” Einer said. “I’m not exaggerating.”
Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said there had been a proposal in the Legislature to allow municipalities to ban fireworks outright during times of extreme fire danger, but he said the proposal failed because of the fireworks lobby.
“It’s sad what money can do,” he said.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Councilman Vince Howell was elected Mayor Pro-tem. The mayor pro-tem fills in for the mayor when he is absent.
Councilwoman Tonita Gurule-Giron initially nominated Councilman Joey Herrera for the position, but Herrera declined the nomination and nominated Howell instead.
Also at the meeting, the Council voted 2-0 to award a contract to Franken Construction Company for the city’s Valencia Street parking lot improvement project. Public Works Director Carlos Ortiz told the Council that Franken Construction was the low bidder at $212,764.
Herrera and Gurule-Giron voted to award the contract to Franken, though they insisted that there be no change orders on the project.
Howell, who works for Franken Oil, abstained from the vote after coming under fire from Einer earlier in the meeting for failing to disclose his connection with Franken when the matter came up during the Council’s previous work session.
Einer said that both the city charter and state law required Howell to abstain from voting on the matter.
City Attorney Dave Romero advised Howell to abstain from the vote and to disclose his connection to the company for the record.