The Mesquite City Council reviewed an initiative petition committee verification geared towards banning smoking in casinos, bars, restaurants, and even private living areas at its Tuesday, May 8 meeting.
Tracy Beck, Mesquite City Clerk, presented the council with a notice from a Mesquite Clean Indoor Air Initiative Petition committee, that kicks off a months-long process to place a citizen initiative on the November general election ballot to make Mesquite the first locale in the state of Nevada that would ban all smoking anywhere in a casino and many other places.
On a 5-0 vote, the council directed city staff to “determine if the initiative may have any anticipated financial effect on the local government if the initiative is approved by the voters. If it is determined that the initiative may have an anticipated financial effect on the local government if the initiative is approved by the voters, the council must prepare a description of the anticipated financial effect and the city clerk shall post a copy of this information on the city clerk’s Internet website.”
Beck said the petition must receive valid signatures from 15 percent of registered voters who voted in the 2016 election, which equates to 1,210 signatures. The petition must be completed by June 29 and submitted to the county on that date.
If the petition is deemed successful, the council must appoint two committees of three people each. One committee will construct arguments for approving the initiative and the other committee will write arguments for disapproving the initiative. Those two arguments will then be used on the November ballot for voters to digest.
Beck said it will cost the city between $10,000 and $15,000 to place the initiative on the ballot.
The committee’s cover letter to the council said, “We believe your refusal to take action ignores the health and welfare of Mesquite residents, workers and visitors, and the costs to our community of millions of dollars each year. We are now taking this action because inaction is not an option.
Councilman Dave Ballweg began the council discussion by saying “this is not an advisory issue. If passed by the voters, it will be mandatory.”
Ballweg said the affect on the city’s budget would be wide-ranging including reductions in collections of business licensing fees, less liquor taxes, less gaming taxes and less room taxes. “I penciled it out and I may be wrong but potentially the city could lose $2.5 million. It’s an arbitrary number. The businesses project a drop of 30 to 50 percent in their revenues, at least initially.”
He also said it is important for people to understand that the proposed law bans smoking in more places than just casinos. “If you don’t live in a single-family residence, you can’t smoke in your condo, townhome or even on your balcony or in your yard,” Ballweg said. According to the proposed law, it doesn’t matter if you own the property or not.
Councilman George Rapson pointed out the profit margins for casinos “are not huge. Even a 10 to 15 percent decrease in business will have a significant impact on those businesses. It could be worse than that, but we don’t know. I do believe there will be a financial impact and it won’t be a good one. It’s going to affect rental incomes and a lot of other things because it goes beyond clean air in casinos.
“Property tax revenues to the city will be impacted. Wages and salaries will be impacted if the casinos lay off employees. The way that circulates in the town, every business from gas stations to grocery stores will be impacted. There is layer upon layer that affects the city’s revenues. What happens if something bad happens?”
Councilman Brian Wursten said when he installed gaming machines at the Falcon Ridge golf course, which was a non-smoking facility, the gaming revenues were so small that the distribution company pulled them out. “I have first-hand experience with this issue. We could also lose residents who move out of the city because of this new law.”
Wursten also said “we’re trying to do this in one tiny part of the state. If this was state-wide, I’d be all for it. Just to make Mesquite the Guinea pig, I have a really, really hard time with that. I also know that we’re going to see some legal ramifications and lawsuits from the casinos on this issue. By doing this on a local level, I think we are doing a disservice to our community.”
The law designates the Health Authority and/or the city of Mesquite as the compliance authority. Presumably, the city would be responsible for ensuring compliance and bear all of the associated costs above and beyond what would be collected from fines since there is no designated or dedicated health authority in Mesquite.
The proposed law calls for a fine of $100 for a first violation, $250 for the second violation in one year, and a $1,000 fine for each additional violation within one year of the second violation. No less than 75 percent of the funds collected for violations will be use exclusively for the implementation, compliance, and enforcement of the law.