The city of Ceres is increasing the fee for non-profit organizations to operate an annual fireworks booth from $282 to $399.
The fee hike is not related to the City Council's recent action that makes possession of illegal fireworks and explosives a violation of the city's municipal code.
City Manager Toby Wells said the fee increase in the fee, set in 2011, is designed to cover staff time necessary to process the applications and check to ensure safety laws are being followed.
Ceres only allows non-profit organizations like scouts, churches, clubs and sports teams to sell fireworks within the city limits.
The city doesn't typically have problems with safe and sane variety of fireworks but past Fourth of July holiday seasons have proved bothersome and dangerous. Ceres firefighters and police officers had their hands tied when it came to cracking down on illegal fireworks. They were only able to cite those caught in the act of lighting the type of fireworks that explode or leave the ground on a state statute. With the municipal code changed, the city can now cite a person with a misdemeanor for mere possession of aerial fireworks or firecrackers or explosive devices like M-80s. The citation can carry a $1,000 fine per incident and/or six months in jail.
The proliferation of illegal Fourth of July aerial displays and the sound of illegal explosive devices reached a pinnacle last summer in Ceres and other neighboring cities. The blatant disregard for the law prompted Ceres city officials to discuss the matter in September.
Wells said the city had formerly been challenged to enforce the ban on illegal fireworks through a state health and safety code that requires an officer to actually see someone light a fume. He said the state code was a "pretty high standard and difficult to enforce."
Ceres and Modesto decided to move toward changes in the municipal code to make possession of illegal fireworks a violation of municipal code. The move gives the city "a lot more latitude and allow the city to set the fine not rather than relying what the state levels are and again the need to prosecute" said Wells.
Wells said the city has yet to formulate a plan to staff enough personnel to catch illegal fireworks users and may decide to deputize firefighters before fireworks sales begin.
High school student Austin Moore said the fee hike could negatively affect the ability of non-profit groups to raise funds for such things as scholarships.
The council approved the increase by a vote of 4-0. Vice Mayor Mike Kline was absent.