Fireworks ordinance discussion gets heated in Peralta

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Sparks flew and emotions ran high during a discussion about fireworks in Peralta over what should be included in a hotly contested ordinance amendment during a workshop at the town hall on March 13.

Some of the wording in the ordinance, which was amended last year, was recently changed since the town hired Ed Gonzales as the town's code enforcement officer, and Richard Chavez, the public works director.

Peralta Fire Chief John Dear, who wasn't included in the revision decisions, took exception and voiced his concerns about the changes after Councilor Ginger Shoemaker asked him his opinion on the matter.

Chavez and Gonzales were about to present their changes to the full council when Shoemaker interrupted and questioned why the issue of the ordinance was being brought to the governing body.

"We have spent the time and the money to look at this fireworks ordinance two major times," Shoemaker said. "I'm curious why we are looking at this again. To me, it doesn't seem like a priority."

Dear said he had "a lot" of concerns about the changes and said the language in the ordinance prevented fire department officials from investigating a fire started by fireworks.

Instead, those duties of conducting inspections and issuing citations would be left up to the code enforcement officer, Dear said. The fire chief has said he favored the idea of having the code enforcement officer inspect vendors' businesses.

"We are trying to take the headache away from you," said Mayor Bryan Olguin. "We have a code enforcement officer in place now. I think it's the code enforcement officer's role to provide code enforcement."

Dear said the code enforcement officer would need to be on-call 24/7 and respond to calls outside the town limits from people complaining about fireworks that are banned in other municipalities, but legal in Peralta.

Peralta is the only municipality in the county where fireworks, such as mortars, are legal. Other municipalities, such as Belen and Los Lunas, do not allow the sale of fireworks that shoot higher than 10 feet in the air.

"Then you are going to have to make it more than code enforcement because he's going to answering calls from Bosque Farms, Los Lunas and Belen about why (vendors) are selling fireworks and all this other stuff," Dear said.

Olguin responded, "Respond to calls? He does not respond to calls outside the town of Peralta."

Dear fired back, "He's going to respond to the complaints from outside the town of Peralta. The fireworks don't stay in Peralta. They go outside."

Olguin agreed that Gonzales might have to listen to complaints from Valencia County residents.

"That's part of his job," Olguin said. "But it seems like you are really upset about something. What is it?"

Dear said he was "upset" about numerous elements of the ordinance, but that he would "let it go."

Olguin said he was trying to take the burden off of fire department officials from doing the inspections.

But Dear said the ordinance would take his authority away.

"As part of my fire duties I should be able to go in there without having to get a search warrant and go into the doggone business and look it over," Dear said.

Olguin replied, "It doesn't state that you can't go in there."

Dear raised his voice, "No, I can if I want to get a search warrant. It doesn't say I can, either."

"John, settle down," Olguin said.

Olguin told Dear the meeting was for discussion, not action, and that people shouldn't be yelling at each other.

"You are raising your voice at me, John," Olguin said. "You know, I've never done that to you — never. I've always respected you, immensely."

Both men apologized to one another and shortly after, the council agreed the two entities should work jointly with one another and not make changes the other parties are not aware of concerning the ordinance.

The council members agreed the fire chief should be included in the seizure of fireworks portion of the ordinance that says either entity "shall" inspect firework stands for compliance.

In a phone interview, Dear said the ordinance needs to be tweaked for next year.

He said he was upset with the lack of communication and that the wording of the ordinance left the fire department's role out of the document.

"It needs to be changed a little bit," Dear said. "But we will work with the changes."

During the workshop, the council also talked about Peralta's comprehensive plan, which is being formulated by the Mid-Region Council of Governments.

The plan is geared to help guide the municipality in which projects will be implemented over the next couple of decades. It lays out the goals and objectives of the town and covers everything from the wastewater system to modes of transportation.

The main objectives of the plan include establishing a distinctive rural and agricultural character in the coming years and providing a treatment system for wastewater in Peralta.

Currently, the town is in the process of planning to hook into the wastewater system in Bosque Farms. The town can apply for additional federal grants now that the process of a plan has been started.

Officials are asking Peralta residents for their input on what should be included in the plan. The town council will discuss the plan at its Wednesday, March 27, meeting.

"I think I like that it is a comprehensive plan that looks at the town of Peralta for the next 30 years," said resident Waldy Salazar. "It keeps the town agriculture-friendly. That's the overall theme that I believe all residents want."

Councilor Joseph Romero said he is glad officials have gotten the ball rolling on the comprehensive guide for the town.

"For me, I have been squawking about this since two months after we incorporated (in 2007)," Romero said. "Everybody had all these great ideas and everybody wanted to go in a million different directions. (They) were all good ideas, but we weren't getting anywhere. We weren't focused, we didn't have a plan.

"There's been a bunch of different people that have preached (implementing a plan). I think some folks didn't really understand exactly how important it was until they started talking about money (the town would be eligible to apply for).

"Now, we are more focused instead of just doing things on a whim."

If you have questions about the comprehensive plan, call the town of Peralta at 869-2050.


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.