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City lifts fireworks ban

7/1/2014

By NICK SCHWIEN

By NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net

The meeting lasted approximately 30 minutes. But in that short amount of time, Hays city commissioners brought a smile to the majority of the nearly 25 people in attendance during a special meeting late Monday afternoon at city hall.

In a 4-1 vote, city commissioners voted to lift a ban on the sale of discharge of fireworks within city limits on July 2 to 4.

Most of the commissioners said their reasoning for lifting the ban this year was due to the amount of rain received in the recent weeks.

The lone dissenting vote came from Vice Mayor Eber Phelps, who said his no vote had nothing to do with the recent rain but more to do with staying in compliance with neighboring cities and the county.

"I've been reported very well, but I'm not the one who gave the reason for supporting the ban based on rainfall or lack there of,"  Phelps said. "What I've been looking at is the law enforcement issue, and also the being consistent with the other cities in the area. Victoria, I checked earlier, as well as Ellis and the county commission are upholding the ban. For that reason, I'll be voting to uphold the ban."

"My original position has been to join the ban of county commissioners," Phelps said. "I checked with a county commissioner yesterday, and as well as on the way to the meeting. They have no intention of lifting the ban. If they would have came to their last meeting and lifted the ban, I would have gone along with that because I think it would have facilitated things as far as the county law enforcement. So I will be in opposition of lifting the ban."

Mayor Henry Schwaller IV and commissioners Kent Steward, Ron Mellick and Shaun Musil vote in favor of allowing fireworks in the city limits July 2 to 4 between the hours of 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. each day.

"I've been opposed to lifting the ban when we voted to lift the ban because it hadn't rained at the time,"  Steward said. "I'll end the suspense by saying I'm fine with going ahead and lifting the ban, but the thing I want to emphasize is what I've stated all along: My great concern is many people, intelligent, well-meaning people, don't pay a whole lot of attention to what we do down here. And oftentimes they don't understand a lot of the issues pertaining to water and drought and conservation and those types of things. I hope all of you who are here tonight because you want fireworks would be personally aware and share with others that still today, we're still in a drought."

Mellick voted to revoke the ban, but urged residents to be respectful of discharging fireworks. He also said despite the rains, things still are capable of burning.

"The reason we're at this point is because a couple of years ago we suspended sales and discharge of fireworks one day after the state allowed them to start selling,"  Mellick said. "We had vendors in here that were unhappy that said how we had hurt their business, and they had spent money and couldn't recoup it. Especially, we had not-for-profit groups with fundraisers, and they were the ones that asked us to make this decision in May and not wait until the end. That's why we didn't make this decision last week is because we had to make this in May. At that time, it hadn't rained. Well, it has rained substantially, especially this last weekend. Things are green. There are still a lot of things out there that will burn."

Musil has a been a strong supporter of lifting the ban once the rain started to fall and things greened up.

"I'm glad we got the rain we got, but I also respect the emails we got from people who don't want to have fireworks,"  Musil said. "There's a lot of people who don't want them because they have dogs, and there's a lot of mess. I ask people to respect that."

Schwaller said he would allow three people to address the commission before the vote was taken -- one person in favor of lifting the ban, one opposed and one public safety official.

Only Roy Herman, representing Taz Fireworks, stepped to the mic.

"I think some of the longtime vendors who have been in the city of Hays through thick and thin have obviously moved on to other communities in the last couple of weeks," said Herman, who mentioned the business has a fireworks stand in Russell. "I think it's a great consideration."

Following the meeting, Scott Simpson said he was glad the commission is allowing fireworks this year. But he was concerned the decision took too long to come to fruition.

"I'm very pleased," Simpson said. "I think they drug it out way too long. I think they overstep their boundaries on a regular basis down here treating the general community like we're uneducated and can't think for ourselves. I think everyone is well aware there's a drought. We also are well aware we've received substantial rainfall in the last 30 days. I just think they overstep their boundaries on a regular basis."