Six bars that were in business before the Rolla City Council’s workplace smoking ban took effect Jan. 2 are hurting financially, according to one city councilman, who suggests smoking be allowed in those establishments after 9 p.m.
“Since there was a consensus among these businesses that the smoking ban has caused significant harm, I floated the idea of a 9 p.m. exemption,” Councilman Steve Leonard, Ward 2, said in a memo he presented to the council.
That stuck in the craw of Councilman Tony Bahr, Ward 6, who unleashed on Leonard.
“From now on, if you’re going to float an idea, talk to us first,” he said.
Leonard said he had talked to the mayor, but Mayor Bill Jenks said, “I didn’t know you were going to float an idea to the businesses.”
Asking why he should not work for a solution to a problem that six local businesses appear to be facing, Leonard said the effect of the Rolla Smoke-Free Workplace Ordinance is dire enough that more than one owner indicated the imminent loss of total investment in the business.
“We’re not floating anybody anything until you talk to us,” Bahr replied emphatically.
Leonard had submitted survey forms to six bars; five of them responded that business had been hurt.
Those five all responded to a survey question that they would support an exemption to allow smoking from 9 p.m. until closing for customers at least 21 years of age. The sixth indicated possible support for such an exemption.
Bahr asked City Administrator John Butz if any of the six tavern owners had told him they were hurting financially to the extent described by Leonard.
Butz said some owners had come by City Hall and indicated business was down, but only one said relief of some sort would help.
Mayor Jenks said confidential sales tax figures indicate that some bars were already showing a downward trend before the smoking ban took effect.
“Is it the smoking ban or new businesses coming in” that has the most effect on the six bars, Bahr asked.
In the opening of the discussion of the smoking ordinance’s effect, Butz said it is difficult to figure out what that effect is due to “changing economic realities, competition and reporting data.”
Butz said the restaurant and bar business generates approximately $26 million annually in Rolla with the city of Rolla collecting sales taxes of $650,000.
He estimated that bar sales were $517,000 in 2009-2010, $832,000 in 2010-2011 and $910,000 in 2011-2012 fiscal years.
“Absolutely the addition of new restaurants and bar options has impacted these sales so estimating the impact of the smoking ban is almost impossible to trace after six months of data,” Butz said in his agenda commentary.
Page 2 of 2 - Moreover, the businesses report their sales to the state at different times, so tracking month by month is nearly impossible.
“It would likely take quarterly monitoring for 18-24 months to draw some reasonable implications,” he said.
Councilman J.D. Williams, Ward 5, said he has always been against the ordinance because it is intrusive; the government should not tell private business how to operate, he said.
“You’ve created a boondoggle,” he said, because an exemption was made for the Lions Club. “We’re really not being fair.”
Councilwoman Fran Mazanec, Ward 6, said if any exemption is to be made it should be on the basis of the amount of liquor sales. She also said businesses that are given an exemption should be required to post signs indicating they are “smoking establishments.”
Leonard asked if he had the council’s permission to formally present an exception to the smoking ban ordinance at the next meeting. There did not appear to be a consensus on whether he should be allowed to do so.