Originally created 01/18/06

Panel elects to put tobacco ban at parks on back burner



Smokers and dippers still will be able to indulge themselves while playing softball, watching soccer and participating in other outdoor activities at Aiken County parks - at least for a while.

The Aiken County Council's development committee on Tuesday chose to remove a proposed ordinance from the council agenda that, if passed, would have prohibited the use of tobacco products at county parks.

Smoking inside county buildings already is banned. The measure would have extended that restriction on tobacco products to outdoor recreation areas.

The committee is taking a wait-and-see stance by deferring the issue until after the South Carolina General Assembly decides whether it will raise the tobacco tax.

The council did pass a resolution urging the state to share any revenue from an increase in the tax with the Parks, Recreation and Development Fund. The PARD program, established in 1987, assists local governments with improvements to public parks.

Committee chairwoman Kathy Rawls and member Willar Hightower said they would support the tobacco ban. The third member of the committee, Charles Barton, said he favored providing designated smoking areas rather than imposing a complete ban on tobacco use at parks. Because the group was split on the issue, Ms. Rawls decided to postpone moving the ordinance to the full council.

"If we're going to accept (increased PARD funds from a higher tobacco tax), then we should do our part in doing something about (discouraging tobacco use)," she said.

Research campus

The county will hire two workers to fulfill council's commitment to tenants of the new Center for Hydrogen Research at the Savannah River Research Campus.

Ms. Rawls cast the lone dissenting vote on the third reading of an ordinance authorizing the hiring of maintenance workers for the $9.2 million high tech building at the county-owned business park near the Savannah River Site. Her disapproval, she said, is based on the campus' poor financial showing.

The research campus has never generated a profit for the county. Finance Director Terry Bodiford told the council the property will end the fiscal year more than $725,000 in the red, although he expects it will turn a profit once the speculative side of the Center for Hydrogen Research is fully leased.

The county issued bonds to finance the new building after receiving a commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy to lease half the lab space for hydrogen researchers and technicians from the Savannah River National Laboratory.

Ultimately, the intent is for private industry and universities to lease space in the building for their scientists to work with their DOE peers on hydrogen fuel cell research.

Reach J.C. Lexow at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106 or jc.lexow@augustachronicle.com.