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Smoking question snubbed

BRECKENRIDGE – A question to amend the smoking ban by placing the issue on the November ballot went down in flames Tuesday at a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session. Restaurateurs who are experiencing up to 39 percent declines in sales asked the commissioners to consider amending the smoking ban – supported nearly 2-to-1 by voters last fall – by placing a question on the Nov. 2 general election ballot that would ask voters to consider allowing smoking in 21-and-over establishments after 10 p.m.Bar and restaurant owners say it’s hurting business but Commissioner Bill Wallace was not willing Tuesday to rush in an attempt to amend the law, which went into effect June 1 and bans smoking in Summit County’s public places, including private businesses.”It’s not going to happen this year,” Wallace said. “There’s not enough time.”The deadline to add a ballot question is today.”We went through a six- to eight-month public process before putting that question on the ballot,” Wallace said. “The day before the deadline, we don’t have enough time to get public input and work with the towns. I’m not going to blindside the towns without having the discussion with them.”Scott Jackson, owner of the Goat in Keystone, brought petitions with 800 signatures in support of a ballot question. He said approximately 2,000 additional signatures were collected.He noted that 17 percent of registered voters (there are more than 20,000 in Summit County) passed the ban in April. He said more people will show up at the polls this November.”We were hoping to put it on the ballot in a Presidential election year,” Jackson said. “We just want a fair shake.”Surveys show bars and restaurants experiencing 7- to 39-percent declines in sales this summer. Jackson said his business is down 23 percent. “In a struggling economy to begin with, 23 percent is devastating to me,” he said.Countywide sales tax revenues were up in June by about 5 percent. Wallace questioned whether the smoking ban was to blame for declining revenues at bars and restaurants. Jim Shields, owner of The Snake River Saloon in Keystone, said the three-month period since the ban started is enough time for owners to gauge that it is hurting business.”We’re here now with new information,” Shields said. “Under the new rules, I’m showing losses. I’ve laid people off. I’ve canceled entertainment. This is not working.”Shields and Linda Colety, owner of The Moose Jaw in Frisco, said they understood the decision not to act so close to the deadline. Shields recommended a trial period this winter – without putting a question on the ballot – to ease the restrictions during ski season.”This is an extreme climate to ask people to stand outside. Before we turn these people off, let’s consider a trial basis and try this 10 p.m. thing,” he said. “I need a decision sooner. I’m trying to weigh a $15,000 to $20,000 decision to do something that would keep (customers) warm while they stand outside.”The commissioners during the meeting did not address Shields’ request for immediate help.Jackson said the smoking issue lit a civic fire under his 20- and 30-something clientele, a group least likely to show up at the polls in most elections. At the Goat alone, Jackson registered 50 people to vote during the petition drive.”I definitely think this was an issue of passion for your neighborhood pub,” he said. “Hopefully, that will project further by getting all these folks out to vote on every issue.”While smoking ban proponents said the new smoke-free atmosphere would draw a new clientele to local bars, Shields said that has not happened.”There was an incorrect assumption that would happen and it hasn’t,” he said.”The nonsmoking group is a no show,” Colety added. Shields further suggested that government should not control decisions for private businesses.”Where does everyone fall on the rights issue,” he asked commissioners.”People thought health issues trumped the rights issue,” Commissioner Bob French said.”I’d say freedom of choice trumps all other issues,” Shields answered.Wallace called the rights issue “perplexing,” adding that the line is “gray” between government control and a business owner’s right to make decisions in his or her own establishment.”I do think public health and safety was the defining issue that prevailed in this discussion,” he said.Commissioners French and Tom Long said they wanted to see sales tax figures through August to judge how the ban might be affecting business. Those figures will be available in mid October.This summer, Shields said he frequently saw 20 people outside his bar smoking and only three inside. As ski season approaches, he will continue to consider heating an outdoor space for customers unless commissioners decide to amend the law for a trial period.”That’s what we asked for today. I’m not sure whether that’s going to happen, but I hope they consider it,” he said.Summit Daily News reporter Julie Sutor contributed to this story.Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at kmarquis@summitdaily.com.


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