Archive for Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Elected officials discuss smoking ban

UG, Bonner Springs and Edwardsville meet together

November 5, 2008

The question of whether Wyandotte County should institute an ordinance restricting smoking in public places may be on the ballot next April.

The idea was supported by some of the participants Thursday in a joint meeting of the Bonner Springs and Edwardsville city councils and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan., Board of Commissioners.

The most impassioned argument for a ban came from UG commissioner Don DeSeure, who said he lost his father as a result of smoking.

“I support a complete smoking ban,” he said, though he recognized that compromise would be necessary.

DeSeure said the most important reason for a smoking ban is the health of employees in enclosed places that allow smoking.

“Some people don’t have a choice where they can work,” DeSeure said, and that holds even more true with the current economic downturn.

The Bonner Springs City Council at its meeting days before had discussed the results of an opinion survey taken by the council members and the mayor on a smoking ban. Seven of the nine said they thought a smoking ban should be put on the ballot for Bonner Springs residents to vote on.

Mayor Clausie Smith said at Thursday’s meeting that despite the wording of that question and the council members’ answers, “I think the referendum should be countywide and not just Bonner Springs or Edwardsville.”

UG commissioner Nathaniel Barnes concurred, saying, “I don’t go along with the idea that a few people should make that decision.”

UG commissioner Ann Brandon-Murguia disagreed with the concept of a referendum on the issue, saying, “I think our duty as elected officials is to make the difficult decisions … When someone says, ‘let the public vote,’ I fell we’re reneging our responsibility.”

Furthermore, she added “I think it would be extremely difficult to craft something (the language of an ordinance for a referendum) to vote on that covers all those issues.”

The issues Brandon-Murguia referred to was the thorny question of just what exemptions would be allowed under a smoking ban, such as the percentage of rooms, if any, a hotel could allow smoking in, whether private clubs and casino floors ought to be exempted.

In support of an exception for casinos, UG commissioner Mike Kane said, “people now drive to Kansas City, Mo., for casinos,” and they would still do so if the Hard Rock Casino — set to open in spring of 2009 in a temporary building — if smoking were disallowed on the floor.

Another commissioner pointed out, though, that the opposite might hold true for casino-goers who prefer a nonsmoking environment.

Before the smoking ordinance discussion, UG officials gave presentations on the county government’s functions and the status of the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel development.

Rob Richardson, planning director for the Unified Government, said the casino’s developer, Kansas Entertainment, had “hit the ground running” in preparing for the project.

The final plans for the development are due to the Unified Government for approval by the end of December and could be approved as soon as February, Richardson said.

“There won’t be a lot of discussion” on the plan, Richardson said, because the plans already submitted by the developer were so detailed. Kansas Entertainment has “committed to a 24-month construction schedule,” Richardson said, including a building to house a temporary casino until the actual casino itself is built. The building “won’t be a Butler building,” Richardson said, but rather will serve as an eventual part of the main structure and that casino is scheduled to open July 2009, with the rest of the development set to open in 2011.

Richardson said the casino floor would be 170,000 square feet, with 3,000 slot machines and 100 tables, and the hotel would have 12 floors and 300 rooms. A second NASCAR race was promised as an extra sweetener by the Kansas Speedway, which comprises with The Cordish Company the developer, Kansas Entertainment.

Doug Bach, deputy county administrator for the Unified Government, then gave an overview of the estimated revenue projections for the casino and the respective shares for each Wyandotte County municipality.

With a total $31 million in annual tax revenue projections, Bach said the county would receive $8.4 million, Kansas City, Kan., would receive $10.5 million, Bonner Springs would get $1.5 million and Edwardsville would receive about $915,000.

Local school districts will also reap from the casino, with the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville district set to receive about $7.1 million, Kansas City Kansas Community College about $2.1 million and the Kansas City, Kan., School District about $200,000.

Non-host school districts, including Piper, will share $500,000, as will the city’s charter schools, and the county parks department will receive $100,000, all per contributions already committed to by Kansas Entertainment.

Lastly, the company agreed to give 1 percent — or about $3.1 million — of its annual gross revenue to the Unified Government, Bach said, “in recognition of the investment in roads and infrastructure” and as a way to “return to the community,” he said.

Some details of the casino’s tax revenue disbursement remain to be decided, including how often the revenue will be paid to the state, that is, quarterly or monthly.

The casino and hotel property itself will be taxable as of Jan. 1, Bach said.


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