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Schenectady council proposes fine for fireworks violations

Schenectady council proposes fine for fireworks violations

A public hearing scheduled for June 25
Schenectady council proposes fine for fireworks violations
Illegal fireworks tower over roof tops of homes on Schenectady Street on Hamilton Hill on July 4, 2016.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- A fine of up to $250 for each firework illegally launched in the city was proposed by City Council members on Monday.

The resolution scheduling a public hearing for June 25 regarding the proposed fine was approved unanimously out of the council’s Administrative Efficiency Committee during Monday’s meeting. 

The full council may immediately approve the measure following the public hearing, just in time for the Fourth of July holiday.

Councilman John Polimeni introduced the proposed fine and said it is meant to help address a problem that has been plaguing city residents every Independence Day since the state gave permission to communities to allow small fireworks.

“Basically, this is giving some teeth to our Police Department to enforce the law,” Polimeni said.

The proposed fine is actually an addition to the city’s already existing ordinance for permits for public displays of fireworks. The ordinance is mainly meant to require different organizations to obtain a permit so they can shoot off fireworks.

Those permits must be approved by the chiefs of both the Police and Fire departments.

The additional language not only levies a fine against offenders, but it also allows police to confiscate  fireworks or any devices used to launch them.

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield asked whether police needed to actually catch someone in the act of lighting off a firework to issue them a ticket. Police Chief Eric Clifford, who was present during the meeting, said they would.

City Council President Ed Kosiur said that’s why the confiscation element was added.

“Even in the least, if an officer shows up and nobody's there, they can confiscate the fireworks,” Kosiur said.

This comes a week after both Pat Smith, president of the Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association, and Marva Isaacs, president of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, said they were already hearing fireworks in their neighborhood.

Both requested some sort of action be taken.

It also comes after the Schenectady County Legislature approved a ban on sparklers and ground-based fireworks in April.

Kosiur stressed this legislation would cover fireworks of any kind, including aerial ones and firecrackers, such as M-80s and cherry bombs.

All of the council members on Monday agreed the proposed fine was necessary. But some were not pleased the legislation was being rushed.

“I think it’s bad policy to have a public hearing and a vote on the same night,” Independent Councilman Vince Riggi said following the meeting.

Riggi added that he understands the need for expediency since the Fourth of July is only a couple of weeks away, but said the legislation should have already been introduced.

Kosiur said the council could pause the meeting after the public hearing and address anything concerns raised by residents in caucus. But he doesn’t anticipate that happening, as he feels most residents would be in favor of the proposed fine.

While Riggi was in favor of the legislation, he said the most important part is that it is enforced.

Clifford said his department already has “increased awareness” of fireworks leading up to he holiday and that there will be increased patrols.

“I’m confident we’re going to have the staffing available to us to do an additional presence just focusing on fireworks,” Clifford said,

Clifford said he may bring in officers on overtime, which he said is already covered in this year’s budget.

“We always factor in more for holidays, especially the Fourth,” Clifford said.

He also has put in requests to the New York State Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department to assist them during the holiday. 

If they are not able to, though, Clifford said there is a detective in the department who is on the Schenectady County arson task force, which has members from the ATF, who has “knowledge on the explosives end of it.”

Clifford said he also has a request into Fire Chief Ray Senecal for the firefighter on the task force who carries law enforcement powers.

Some of the areas that will be the focus for police are the Hamilton Hill, Mont Pleasant, Bellevue and Eastern Avenue neighborhoods. That’s because the homes are closer together.

But Clifford said people setting off fireworks in the northern part of the city will get ticketed as well.

“There’s enough fireworks going around that people can enjoy them without having to do them themselves,” Clifford said.

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