Lake Delton airs smoking ban
November 18, 2007
By Trevor Kupfer, Dells Events, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Kay Mackesey Administration Building in Lake Delton saw its biggest crowd of the year Monday afternoon as more than 50 area residents came to voice their opinion regarding a proposed ordinance to declare public places smoke-free in the village.
Following discussion of the topic, the board promptly tabled the ordinance and will re-introduce it at a meeting in December to give trustees more time to talk with their constituents. When the topic arises, the board will do one of four things: work with the city of Wisconsin Dells to pass the ordinance in both communities, choose to deny the ordinance, wait until the ban is passed state-wide or schedule an advisory referendum on the subject in spring.
“This is a very emotional issue, and something that was brought to my attention a while ago, so I made the decision to see where we want to go with this if we want to do anything at all,” President Frank Kaminski said. He said the board would not make any decision Monday, but introduced the ordinance to allow for publication so residents can view it in case it goes to spring referendum.
Kaminski then opened up the meeting for comments from the audience, which was comprised of business owners, organization representatives and area residents.
“You’re going to hear both sides of this, with negative economic data and the fact that most of these states are doing just fine as far as businesses,” said Portage resident Jeff Melby, of the Tobacco Free Coalition, adding that 22 states have gone smoke-free including Minnesota and Illinois. “If this is an economic death sentence, then why are so many states and communities doing this? I applaud the board for bringing this up and being progressive. I hope you weigh both sides of the issue as you look into this.”
Karen Torgerson, coordinator of Wisconsin Dells Youth Futures and chairperson of Sauk County Tobacco Free Coalition, also voiced support for the ordinance because vacationers are coming from already smoke-free areas, and it could improve the environment in which young people grow up.
“The main thing I’m concerned about is workplace safety, and I know that if we allowed some businesses to have asbestos and others not, we would know that doesn’t make sense,” said Judy Spring, also of the coalition another proponent of the ordinance. Spring said servers and bartenders have increased risk of cancer.
The audience wasn’t only comprised of persons in support of the ordinance, however, as several business owners felt their establishments would suffer.
“You’re going to put a lot of mom-and-pop places out of business,” said Dan Frisch, a director for the Tavern League of Wisconsin. “In the Dells, you’re going to have places lock up because of it.”
Frisch said 26 taverns in Madison have went out of business since the ban in 2005, and 16 have closed in Appleton.
“To me, you should be able to run your business the way you want to,” he said, followed by a round of applause. “I don’t think government should be telling you how to run your business.”
Mark Obois, a restaurant owner, said his business has evolved over the years to adapt to the wishes of the customers, and some customers want to have options.
“I can’t imagine people here telling me whether this would be an economic hurt or a plus,” he said. “I can tell you it would hurt me because I go with what the customer wants.”
Jesse DeFosse, owner of Showboat Saloon, had a similar sentiment. “I’m surprised to see this here because Lake Delton already has so many choices. You have great bars and atmospheres that are smoke-free,” he said, citing Monk’s and Knuckleheads. “Smoke-free is great when you don’t have any choices, but you have choices.”
Mick Quindt, of Sauk County Tavern League, said the ordinance would send more people to Ho-Chunk Casino. He added that business owners have spent a great deal of money to improve the atmosphere of facilities that allow smoking.
“I haven’t smoked for 25 years, but a lot of us have spent a lot of money on equipment to make it comfortable for those that do smoke and those that don’t,” he said.
Lake Delton’s proposed ordinance is reminiscent of a bill at the state level, which the Senate recently tabled to renegotiate with the tavern league and will be re-introduced in January.
“I own a business in the Dells, and this would have a tremendous impact on it,” said Jeff Morris, an asthmatic Dells resident. “I don’t think us, as a resort community, need to go out on a limb right now. We need to let things go state-wide, if that’s the wish, so we’re all on a level playing field.”
Trustee Steve Haupt, owner of the bar and restaurant Brat House Grill, agreed. “It should be either on a state level, so everyone’s on a level playing field, or do nothing at all.”
Trustee Tom Diehl said when Madison went smoke-free a few years ago, his business Houlihan’s suffered for being close to Middleton because of the “island effect.”
“Since the perception of the general public is that the Dells and Lake Delton is one community, wouldn’t it be more advantageous to have a joint discussion with the city?” Diehl said. “I would hate to see Lake Delton pass it, and the city not as it would create islands.”
Kaminski said Mayor Eric Helland has been part of this discussion and is waiting to hear what comes out of the village meeting.