2010 THE VOTE: Smoke ban, tax face vote

SAN ANGELO, Texas — San Angelo voters will encounter a longer-than-usual ballot on Election Day because of the two local propositions included.

The first is an initiative proposition put forth by local group Smoke-Free San Angelo. If passed, the ordinance would ban smoking in all public places in the city, including bars, restaurants, outdoor sports arenas and workplaces with one or more employees.

Although a revised version of the ordinance could have potentially made it to the ballot, the version voters will yea or nay is the original version the group petitioned for at the beginning of the year. It includes several items the group had said it was willing to compromise on, including one provision that will be phased out after four years that says hotels and motels cannot allow smoking in more than 20 percent of total rooms and another that requires retail tobacco stores to be located in free-standing structures.

The group submitted a petition to the city clerk in January with more than 4,000 signatures supporting the ordinance. They had hoped the proposition would end up on the ballot in the May 8 city election, but it was eventually determined there was not enough time to go through all the procedural steps required as part of the petition process laid out in City Charter.

In one of the final steps of the process, the city proposed its own version of the ban in an attempt to negotiate with the group. That version was largely the same, but did not include the hotel/motel and specialty tobacco store provision. The San Angelo City Council, however, voted to also exempt bars from the ordinance — the one provision the group said it could not compromise on.

As a result, the group rejected that version and requested the original ordinance it petitioned for be put on the ballot.

At the time, several committee members, including an oncologist and respiratory therapist, said they could not accept the bar exemption because of the health risks it presents to employees and the general public.

“It’s for everybody, and we’ve got to be proactive in creating a healthy environment,” said committee member Marilynn Golightly after the June meeting when the committee voted to reject the city’s version of the ordinance.

If passed as is, the ordinance would also ban smoking in Colonel’s Pipe Shop in Stadium Park shopping center. The ordinance says smoking is allowed in Marlboro cigarettes only if they share “no common walls with other establishments” and only if the “smoke from the retail tobacco store does not migrate into an enclosed area where smoking is prohibited pursuant to this Article.”

The shop’s owner, Mimi Staha, told City Council she would be willing to install a ventilation system to remain at her current location to meet the second part of the provision, but requested that her business be exempt from the ordinance so she could still allow her customers to smoke inside the shop without having to move.

Staha said she will ask the council to amend the ordinance if it’s passed.

“It would have a significant impact on my business as far as not allowing smoking in my shop,” Staha said.

When asked the exact impact she thought it would have on business, Staha said it’s unknown because “all of the other cities that have passed smoking ordinances have grandfathered in their cigar shops.”

Throughout the process, there has been some question whether San Angelo City Council would be able to amend the ordinance after it’s passed. However, council has repeatedly said it wants the ordinance to go to voters, even in July when Mayor Alvin New asked council if it wanted to pass the city’s version of the ordinance before the election so voters would be choosing between a less strict and more strict version of the ordinance.

City Clerk Alicia Ramirez confirmed last week that council has the power to alter the ordinance after it’s passed.

“Once canvassed, if adopted by the voters, the ordinance shall be published and pursuant to provision within the ordinance, become effective 30 days after its adoption,” Ramirez said in an e-mail. “The format of the ordinance shall then be reviewed in preparation for submission to the publisher of the City Code of Ordinances.

“In regards to whether the council has the authority to amend the ordinance after its adoption, under the City Charter, the council has authority to amend any ordinance by adopting an amended ordinance, following the prescribed public notice, hearing and publication requirements.”

Ramirez had said in June that the council would have to make some changes to the ordinance if it passes either way because it includes language inconsistent with the City Charter, such as referring to the City Council as the “city commission.”

When asked about the possibility of the council amending the ordinance, the group has said such an action would be disrespectful and go against everything the council has asserted about the ordinance needing to go to the voters.

Proposition 2

The second proposition was put forth by the city of San Angelo.

If passed, it would drop the sunset, or time limit, on the 4B half-cent sales tax. Under current ordinance, all debt issued for half-cent sales tax projects has to be paid off within the time period of the tax, which is scheduled to expire in 2025.

The city’s request for an extension of the half-cent sales tax is nothing new.

After two failed attempts, San Angelo voters approved a “one-half of one percent sales and use tax,” by 7,534 votes to 1,871 votes, in 1999. In 2004, voters narrowly agreed to reauthorize the sales tax for another 20 years until June 30, 2025. In August, the city of San Angelo announced it would add a proposition to the November ballot that, if passed, would effectively drop all time limits on the tax.

The proposed ordinance is not a tax raise, but an indefinite extension of the same tax San Angeloans, tourists and anyone else spending money in the city have been paying for 11 years. The proposed version of the ordinance simply puts stricter limits on which projects can receive half-cent sales tax funding.

It includes percentage caps on how much of the half-cent funds can be used for economic development and water projects — the two things half-cent sales tax funds are dedicated to in the proposed and current sales tax ordinance. It also stipulates that any funding for additional projects would have to be approved by voters.

As written, the proposed ordinance says, “The use of sales and use tax proceeds for infrastructure relating to the development of water supply, water purchase, water rights purchase, and/or capital improvements to be from a minimum of 21 percent increasing to 72 percent of gross sales and use tax proceeds.”

The proposition also places a 28 percent cap on use of half-cent sales tax funds for economic development purposes, described in both the proposition and the current ordinance as “the development, promotion, creation, retention or expansion of business enterprises that create or retain primary jobs, including suitable infrastructure.”

It also provides for continued funding for many of the projects voters approved in 2004, including an additional $4 million for the North Concho River Rehabilitation project. A few new projects are also listed, with varying funding caps, including $3.75 million for renovation of the municipal auditorium and $500,000 for airport modification. The proposition language also includes a 30-year cap on the $335,000 per year that has been going to affordable housing projects.

City staff and council members have said the main reason they want to drop the limit on the tax is to be able to issue longer-term debt for the $120 million Hickory Aquifer project, as well as any other future water supply projects. City Manager Harold Dominguez has compared the drop of the limit to a longer-term home mortgage, which allows smaller monthly payments to be made over a longer period of time.

All City Council members have stressed how crucial a post-Hickory “plan B” is to the future of the city and have said that having half-cent sales tax funding will ensure San Angelo has at least some funds for Hickory and to continue its search for water after completing Hickory, which will supply the city with water for only 15 to 20 years, depending on usage patterns.

“If we do not have a solid, clear, long-term water supply, not just 10 years, 20 years, 30 years down the line, San Angelo will dry up,” Councilman Kendall Hirschfeld said at a council meeting in August.

At the same meeting, City Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer asked Water Utilities Director Will Wilde to confirm that Lake Ivie and Twin Buttes reservoirs — San Angelo’s two main drinking water sources — would provide San Angelo with only two years of water if they weren’t recharged at all by rain runoff.

“We’re a little above that, but it’s headed that way quick,” Wilde said.

The city wants to move quickly to secure funding for Hickory while interest rates are at an all-time low and the bid market is competitive. While sales tax dollars will not fund the project entirely, Dominguez has said it will allow the city to contribute more to the project and issue a smaller amount of debt. Having no sunset would allow it to contribute about $10 million more to the project. About $15.5 million in sales tax has been committed under the current ordinance. A drop of the sunset would allow about $12 million to be dedicated to other projects, according to numbers presented by the city finance department.

Although some council members suggested the city place some sort of time limit on the tax, city staff have said once a sunset goes beyond a certain number of years, there is no purpose in having one.

Noting the proposition’s strict limits on how the funds can be spent, New stressed the importance of having a funding supply to help the city search for a water supply beyond Hickory.

“The actual finite end date becomes less important, because it allows you to get past Hickory Aquifer and look at what is the next source of water for this community,” New said.

source: San Angelo Standard Times

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