AUGUSTA — The ability of smokers to legally light up in city parks or outside city buildings may be on its last gasp.

City councilors directed administrators Thursday to formalize a proposed draft ordinance to ban smoking in all city parks. They also asked staff to add other city properties — such as City Center and Lithgow Public Library — to the list of areas where smoking would be banned by the proposed ordinance.

Cheryl Clukey, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, said many people smoke in city parks and just outside the doors of public buildings, such as Lithgow and Buker Community Center.

“There are people smoking everywhere, and butts everywhere,” Clukey said. “If you go over to Buker, there are people smoking just outside the door. In the winter, or if it’s raining, they’re all in the portico there, and the smoke is going right into the building.”

The city’s policy against smoking in city parks, approved in 2006, is strictly voluntary. There are signs up at city parks advising people not to smoke, but there are no laws on the books to prevent it, or allow authorities to force smokers to stop.

Mayor William Stokes said he and councilors asked for tougher no-smoking rules after constituents complained current rules do not prevent smoking in city-owned parks and outdoor athletic facilities.

Councilors asked city staff to formalize the proposed draft ordinance, which only mentioned parks. And they asked that staff also add outside City Center, the library, Buker Center and other city-owned buildings to the proposed ban.

Jarody, an Augusta resident who uses only one name, was the only one to speak in opposition to the proposed new rules. He expressed concern about the cost of enforcing and prosecuting violations of the ordinance, and about the loss of personal freedom.

“I’m always wary of the government taking actions to restrict any activity previously freely enjoyed by the general population,” said Jarody, who said he is not a smoker.

Community Services Director Leif Dahlin drafted the proposed ordinance, and based it upon language from municipal no-smoking ordinances he “Googled,” from across the country.

Dahlin said authorities would seek voluntary compliance by first informing smokers of the smoking ban.

If they’re caught smoking on city property after being warned, they could be fined $50 if found guilty in court.

The ordinance would prohibit smoking at or within 20 feet of parks, athletic facilities and play areas owned by the city, including ballfields, athletic courts and their spectator areas.

Councilors questioned the 20-feet rule, expressing concern someone walking past a city property on the sidewalk while smoking, could be considered in violation.

Dahlin and Clukey both said they did not want to target a smoker walking past such a property.

Dahlin said there could be designated smoking areas at some city parks, such as at the large Edwards Mill park.

Councilor Cecil Munson said the city would need to establish designated smoking areas outside city buildings, for employees and others to have a place to be able to go to smoke.

Officials said Augusta would join numerous other municipalities across the country, and the state, in banning smoking in some outdoor public places.

“I think smokers are starting to realize the opportunity to smoke wherever they want to is becoming socially unacceptable, due to health concerns,” Councilor David Rollins said.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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