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Proposed Wheeling Fireworks Ordinance Sparks Debate

Photo by Eric Ayres Wheeling Councilman Jerry Sklavounakis is opposed to a proposed ordinance in the city dealing with fireworks, calling it an example of “governmental overreach.”

A potentially explosive issue may hit the floor at the next Wheeling City Council meeting on June 15, when city leaders are expected to vote on legislation designed to crack down on the use of personal fireworks.

Council members have already expressed differences of opinions on the matter.

During last week’s city council meeting, when a first reading of the new ordinance was held, Ward 4 Councilman Jerry Sklavounakis expressed his opposition to the measure.

“I’m not really sure how this got on the agenda,” Sklavounakis said. “As far as I know, it didn’t go through any committees, but the way I read it, I oppose it.”

The ordinance proposes to amend and re-enact Article 1535 of the city’s codified ordinance relating to fireworks, which provides more defined restrictions for possessing, storing and using fireworks in the city. The new sections basically prohibit fireworks unless an applicable permit process has been followed and approved by city leaders for events such as public fireworks displays.

The revision also puts in place serious penalties for violations.

Sklavounakis said he is opposed to the action for two main reasons.

“One, it precludes people from selling fireworks in the city; I think we should be open for business,” he said. “I don’t think we should preclude those little popup stands that sell fireworks. And two, it also precludes you from possessing fireworks in the city of Wheeling. What that means is, if I go out to Dallas Pike and purchase fireworks, take them back to my house and store them until I take them to an appropriate place to explode, I can be subject to a $500 fine for possession of those fireworks? I don’t think we should do that.”

An attorney by trade, Sklavounakis publicly expressed his displeasure with both the way the legislation came before council as well as the language contained in the proposal.

“I think that’s an example of governmental overreach,” Sklavounakis said. “I oppose it, and I hope the other members of city council will oppose it as well.”

Fellow Councilman Dave Palmer, who represents Ward 6 in the city, noted that he brought the legislation forward. Palmer, who served the city for decades as a firefighter, has raised concerns about personal fireworks on numerous occasions, particularly in the summer months leading up to Independence Day, when consumers tend to purchase and use fireworks.

“We will hold a public hearing before this fireworks ordinance,” Palmer said, noting that the ordinance will come up for discussion on June 15. “I asked for it to be introduced. It does not preclude the sale of fireworks as permitted by state law. The intent of this is basically — and the number one issue — is safety, the safety of the citizens of the city of Wheeling. And that’s why I asked for this ordinance to be brought forth.”

Palmer brought concerns about fireworks before city council last summer, and he did so again last month, noting that he has discussed the issue with the local fire officials and has been championing the effort to update the city’s ordinances pertaining to fireworks.

Although personal fireworks are sold legally in the area, many who purchase them do not follow the law by taking them to places where they are legal to explode. The use of fireworks in the city neighborhoods creates a variety of problems ranging from noise complaints to fire and safety hazards, Palmer has indicated.

“Again, we can discuss this more when it gets to a second reading,” he told Sklavounakis and fellow members of Wheeling City Council this week.

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