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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2005

City determining where smoking is allowed

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

January marks the first month of Toledo's newly amended smoking ban, and city officials are now attempting to sort out which establishments should allow patrons to light up under the new law.

As for those that shouldn't, new citations may be handed out as early as today.

An amendment to the city's old smoking ban passed via voter referendum on the November ballot, allowing smoking in bingo parlors, bowling alleys, bars that receive less than 35 percent of their gross revenue from food sales, and restaurants with nine or fewer total employees on their payroll. The amendment became effective Jan. 1.

Since the November vote, city officials say they have handed out no citations, but that may change today.

"For those who have not claimed an exemption under the new law, we will now start investigating new complaints against them," said E. Jeanette Ball, manager of the city's environmental services department, which is responsible for enforcing the ban.

Even some once opposed to the ban are encouraging its enforcement now that it's been amended to their liking.

"They should be enforcing it now. If people are having a problem with their favorite restaurant still smoking, they should go ahead and call," said Joe Loeffler, an attorney representing Citizens for Common Sense, the group of bar and restaurant owners that sponsored the amendment.

But the question remains: Which establishments, exactly, will now be exempt?

To address that question, Ms. Ball sent a letter dated Dec. 22 to the 138 bars and restaurants for which the city received prior smoking complaints, asking them to specify why they should be exempted, and to provide data backing up their claims.

"There's no intent to harass anybody, but the burden's on them to claim an exemption," city Law Director Barb Herring said.

The letter, which required a response as of yesterday, asked

restaurants wanting an exemption for employing nine or fewer employees for a list of names of all full and part-time workers.

As for bars seeking an exemption for too little food sales, the letter required one of two things: The bar's most recent state sales tax returns, with a breakdown of how much money came from food and alcohol - or a letter from a Certified Public Accountant stating they have examined the bar's finances and believe less than 35 percent of the bar's gross revenue comes from food.

"What we're doing is very fair," Ms. Herring said.

Mr. Loeffler said bar owners he deals with "will be happy to supply letters from accountants.

"We're not acquiescing to this letter as legally binding, but we're going to cooperate," he said.

Arnie Elzey, a leading member of Citizens for Common Sense, said he intends to provide a letter from his accountant. Mr. Elzey received a one-week extension from the city to get his data together.

At least one bar owner said he does not intend to respond to the letter.

"They put me through the ringer for a year and a half, and they want me to conform? Why do I owe them this courtesy of sending it in? It's a matter of principle. My principle is to fight them, and I will continue to do that," said Bill Delaney, owner of Delaney's Lounge on Alexis Rd., which was cited 18 times in 2004.

Still, Mr. Delaney said he has dropped off his personal 2004 sales figures to the city, "and if they're not satisfied with that, [forget] them."

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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