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City looks to control sale of fireworks

(ran North, South editions)

It was half-past midnight when City Manager Scott Miller got home from a New Year's Eve party and found his street shrouded in fog.

At least, he thought it was fog - until he realized it was the smoke from the fireworks in his neighborhood.

"There are two times a year in our city - New Year's and the Fourth of July - where portions of the neighborhoods look like war zones," Miller told the City Council on Tuesday night. "It does get pretty vicious and loud out there."

That's why the council unanimously approved a resolution asking Pasco County officials to crack down on illegal fireworks sales.

State law already prohibits the sale of fireworks except for mining or agricultural purposes, such as shooing away birds from fish hatcheries. (Sparklers and professionally-organized displays are exempt.) But most folks buy rockets, Roman candles and other firecrackers for fun, and all they have to do is fib on a form stating they have a legitimate purpose for the explosives.

New Port Richey's resolution asks county officials to require buyers to show proof of their business purpose, such as a mining permit. Fireworks vendors should be required to keep copies of the documentation for each sale on file, the resolution said.

In order to be successful, the requirements would have to be implemented countywide, which is why the city wants the County Commission's help. But it's a long shot: A similar proposal fizzled last March before Pasco commissioners, who decided the measure would be unenforceable and create mountains of paperwork.

County attorneys offered another proposal last August to ban temporary tent sales, the venue of choice for most fireworks vendors, but commissioners said that was a dud, too. They said the measure had too many loopholes and could have endangered fundraisers by nonprofit groups.

"We're not doing anything further" on fireworks regulations, Assistant County Attorney Barbara Wilhite told the Times on Wednesday. "We've given (commissioners) all of the options that we're aware of, and they didn't direct us to pursue any of them."

County officials did mention the issue to Pasco lobbyist Joe Mannion to see whether the Legislature might revisit the issue. Several commissioners said fireworks regulations should be fixed at the state level, not addressed piecemeal by local governments.

But a state remedy might be unlikely as well: Mannion said he did not know of any firecracker legislation in the works, aside from the usual attempts by fireworks companies to strike down local restrictions like the ones New Port Richey has suggested.

Of course the council was hoping for a better response. Council member Matthew McCaffery said it's "shocking" for state and local officials to turn a blind eye to illegal fireworks sales.

"I'm still boggled by the fact that we can pick and choose which laws are acceptable," McCaffery said.

Bridget Hall Grumet covers New Port Richey. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is bhall@spttmes.com.

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