McAllen might tamp down on fireworks displays

Fireworks explode during the City of McAllen Fireworks Extravaganza Tuesday, July 4, 2017, in McAllen. (Nathan Lambrecht | The Monitor)

It might become harder to set off fireworks in the city of McAllen.

This week, McAllen city commissioners discussed discontinuing firework permits for private events such as weddings or allowing them, but raising the fees associated with them.

The talks, held during a workshop Monday, were prompted by the city’s inconsistency in enforcing its fireworks ordinance.

Interim Fire Chief Juan Gloria explained the ordinance currently states that the use of pyrotechnics is allowed “in connection with” city sponsored fireworks displays for recognized holidays — Independence Day and New Year’s.

Permits for fireworks displays at private events are not allowed but the city has issued them, nonetheless, and for a smaller fee than required for other displays.

For public displays, the ordinance requires a $500 fee because the site where the fireworks will be discharged must be deemed safe by the fire marshal and a fire crew must be on site to supervise.

However, the city had only been charging $50 after a 2018 change in the fee schedule for the storage of fireworks that somehow trickled down and was applied to display permits as well.

Now, the city commission must decide whether they will allow private fireworks displays such as weddings.

“Do we want to allow private public displays like weddings and so on and what do we want to do about the fee?” Gloria told the commissioners.

The neighboring city of Edinburg also prohibits fireworks within city limits but grants exceptions for displays conducted under police supervision and done with a permit issued by the fire department.

Pharr also prohibits fireworks unless discharged by an independent pyrotechnic operator contracted by the city to conduct a public display.

City Commissioner Victor “Seby” Haddad was clear he wanted to enforce the ordinance as currently written so that private displays were not allowed.

“I don’t think fireworks within the city limits are ever a necessity. I personally think we should be clear on that,” Haddad said. “Weddings, events that are private events don’t need them, they want them.”

City sponsored events such as celebrations for the Fourth of July and New Year’s are advertised and are days when the public could reasonably expect to see or hear fireworks.

He noted it would be more difficult to warn the public about fireworks being discharged for private events, which can be especially disruptive to pets and other animals.

“The human issue as well — people bring up veterans or PTSD or the noise disturbance,” Haddad said. “So, I personally don’t think that we need them or need to allow them or charge a fee or make exceptions for private events.”

On the opposite side of the issue was City Commissioner Omar Quintanilla who wanted to allow permits for private events, pointing to a permit that was granted for a wedding held at the McAllen Country Club a few weeks ago.

“In certain instances, I wouldn’t think that an event center like one that’s close to residents and such would be appropriate,” Quintanilla said. “But in an area where it isn’t, I’d be in favor of it.”

He also favored a permit fee lower than $500 but higher than the $50 that had been charged.

But because a crew of city firefighters would have to be diverted from their station to oversee a private event, Haddad didn’t think the $500 was too much if they were going to allow those permits at all.

Commissioners Pepe Cabeza de Vaca and Tony Aguirre worried that allowing displays at private events would increase the amount of permits requested.

“Once we open the can, that’s going to increase by a lot,” Cabeza de Vaca said. “That’s my fear.”

Mayor Pro-tem Joaquin “J.J.” Zamora wanted to know why the city had been issuing these permits at all, a question the interim chief couldn’t answer since the practice predated him.

“Well, shame on us for granting those permits because they shouldn’t have been granted to begin with,” Zamora said.

Zamora suggested limiting those types of permits to one per year and said he would want to raise the fee to $2,000.

“We want to discourage this,” he said. “If you want to and you have the wherewithal to form this kind of fireworks display, by all means, but if you’re going to start using city services where we’re going to have to have a unit or an engine out there to supervise, that’s costing all the citizens of McAllen to do that one display, a private display.”

The commissioners reached no decision on the ordinance but City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez said staff would present them with a few options.