Augusta commissioners will again weigh in on limiting smoking in public places and on designating the surrounding downtown area as a “slum” to encourage growth at a regular Tuesday meeting.
It’s the second time in recent years the commission has considered a ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants, but a city committee referred the matter on last week without making a recommendation.
“When you start designating morality, you’re stepping into the freedoms that a lot of our forefathers died for,” said Commissioner Grady Smith, who opposes the ban.
Smith’s sentiment is shared by several others on the commission, with the notable exception of Commissioner Bill Lockett.
“You don’t have the right to put me in the position where I’ve got to breathe that stuff,” Lockett said.
The designation of 594.5 acres in the Central Business District as a “slum” to borrow money using tax-exempt bonds available for impoverished areas also returns for commission approval Tuesday.
Last week, Commissioner Donnie Smith pushed the designation vote to the full commission with the expectation it would be revised to include only areas that will benefit, but no revised resolution was available to commissioners or the public Monday.
“I don’t know what’s going to be presented tomorrow,” said Commissioner Bill Fennoy, whose District 1 includes downtown Augusta.
Mayor Deke Copenhaver called the designation “a great tool for redevelopment” but expected Monday a more “targeted” plan to be going before the commission Tuesday.
Downtown business owner Mike Walraven, who has spoken out against the designation, returns to speak to the commission about the proposal.
Also Tuesday, the public is invited to a 1 p.m. hearing on the proposed 2014 budget, which has an $8.5 million shortfall commissioners have yet to fill.
Among items likely to be cut or modified are City Administrator Fred Russell’s recommendation of a $1,500 raise for all city staff. The raise would cost $4.6 million annually if implemented in January.
Grady Smith is among several commissioners who think some but not all 2,400 employees need the pay increase. “I think we’re definitely overdue for some of our folks, particularly on the lower end of the scale,” he said.
Also going before the full commission Tuesday is revocation of the alcohol and business licenses of Skittlez, a black gay nightclub placed on probation earlier this year.