Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Smoke 'em if you got 'em (until the new year)

Voters passed a smoking ban this month, with 60 percent of voters in favor of the measure. So are smokers in local bars being asked to stub it out?

Not quite yet, said city manager Doug Griffin. The measure goes into effect in January.

Griffin said city leaders will meet with business owners in the next month or so to answer questions and help them understand what’s expected under the new rules. They’ll also be answering questions about two other recently passed city ordinances – one changing business license rules and one changing how the city sales tax is remitted. More on those later.

The smoking ban doesn’t just focus on bars – it prohibits smoking in any business where the public might have access. That’s the garage of your favorite auto shop, the wash bay at the car wash, pretty much anywhere that is not your personal vehicle or property, Griffin said. Standing on a stoop outside the door doesn’t pass muster either; smokers have to be at least 20 feet away from entrances and also 20 feet away from playgrounds or outdoor seating before they light up. The distance jumps to 50 feet outside health clinics. Places where alcohol is served get a small break; smokers must only be 10 feet away from their doors.

Get caught smoking in the wrong spot and you could get stung in the wallet – up to $100 for the first infraction and $300 if you get caught three times in two years. What’s more, if someone spots a smoker in violation, they can take it to court and get up to $300 from the wayward smoker.

Businesses are required to tell smokers to scram, and to report violators if they don’t. Griffin said he wasn’t sure whether a business could be held liable for people violating the smoking ban on their premises. If a business had posted a “no smoking within 20 feet of the entrance” sign and had done all it was required to do, then probably not, but he’d have to run that question by the city attorney. He also said he’d check on whether the city is going to require signs prohibiting smoking be posted – if so, city employees may be making signs to hand out to businesses, he said.

Griffin said the measure is based on one in Juneau that has weathered legal challenges. 

The other two issues Griffin plans to meet with business leaders about focus on recent changes to city business license and sales tax collection rules.

In September, the council agreed to add a few options for people doing business in the city. Business owners will be able to get two-year licenses, just like the state of Alaska provides, or they can get a license for a three-day event, such as Colony Days. The council also created a state fair business license.

Fees for the new licenses haven’t been set – that’s something the council will do when it considers the city budget next month. But Griffin said he’s not recommending any changes. A yearly city business license currently runs $25; he’ll suggest the biennial license be $50, he said. For the shorter licenses, it’s a matter of finding a fair number. The three-day license might be $10, he said.

“We’re trying to find a sweet spot here, of getting them in (to buy a license),” he said.

Griffin said he’s also trying to make sure businesses are on equal footing – a weekend operator shouldn’t get an advantage over a year-round business.

Paired with the business license changes are new rules for sales tax collection. Currently, any business operating in the city – including vendors only working during the fair – have to submit monthly sales tax reports. Forgetting a report could cost $20, even if no business has been conducted.

The changes set up several tiers of duty for business owners. Businesses doing between $100,000 and $250,000 in taxable sales will be able to submit quarterly sales tax returns and sellers making fewer than $100,000 in taxable sales can submit twice a year. State fair vendors can turn in just one tax report, in October, and special event vendors can turn their reports in the month after their event ends. Businesses doing more than $250,000 in taxable sales will have to turn in monthly reports.

Griffin said the measure aims to streamline reporting and make it easier for businesses and city employees. Processing $0 monthly reports in December from a business owner who operated a booth at the fair ends up being a “needless paper chase, wasting their time and ours,” he said.

Keep an eye on the Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce schedule for a city presentation about the new rules. Their web site is here.

-- Rindi White

No comments: