Ed Fickes’ Election Day battle to escape Greeley’s smoking ban is a fight that is being played out nationwide as bowling center owners face more and more smoking restrictions.
Anecdotal evidence and early results of a national survey suggests that smoking bans such as Greeley’s are far more detrimental to bowling centers than statewide bans, said Bowling Proprietors Association of America Executive Director John Berglund. The association is conducting a survey on the financial impact of smoking bans and expects to have some final results sometime next year. For now, the numbers show that local smoking bans are burning up revenue, Berglund said.
“Smoking bans are devastating to bowling center owners when they are done on a city-by-city basis,” said Berglund, who noted that smoking bans have been a contributing factor in some bowling center bankruptcies. “There is absolutely no concern whatsoever by the anti-smoking zealots for business.”
But many Greeley voters agreed last year that health concerns were paramount when they approved a law that bans smoking in any enclosed public place. The idea behind the ban is that secondhand smoke is unhealthy for nonsmoking customers and employees.
Voters will decide Tuesday whether Fickes can withdraw his business from Greeley city limits, which would allow Classic Lanes customers to smoke again.
“I should have the right to run my bowling center the way I want to run it,” said Fickes, who paid more than $17,000 to get his deannexation request, listed as 2B, on the ballot.
Frank Fronek, who helped organize efforts to pass the smoking ban last year, said he’s concerned about the example Fickes would set if voters approve 2B.
“It’s a bad precedent, I think, because it’s saying, ‘If you don’t like the ban, deannex from the city,’ ” Fronek said.
Patrick Reynolds, an anti-smoking activist and grandson of tobacco company namesake R.J. Reynolds, said business owners such as Fickes should learn to accept smoking bans instead of fighting them.
“This is an idea whose time has come,” Reynolds said. “This is the way of the future, and some people just don’t want to change.”
Reynolds, who lost his father and brother to smoking-related illness, said many businesses are unnecessarily wary of the financial impact of smoking bans because organizations backed by tobacco companies spread fear.
“This harks back to the restaurant associations who became the pawns of big tobacco and were often financed by big tobacco,” Reynolds said. “They fanned the fires of fear among the business owners.”
Fickes said there’s nothing imaginary about his business losses.
“We had nothing but increases until last December,” Fickes said of the month the smoking ban went into effect. “And since then, we’ve had nothing but losses.”
The way Berglund sees it, bowling center owners who fight smoking bans are making an important point about the financial impact of anti-smoking laws.
“If it were good for business, bowling centers would be banning smoking voluntarily,” Berglund said.
Q — Is it true that allowing Ed Fickes to deannex his property will have a financial impact on Greeley?
A –Yes. The city will no longer collect sales taxes from Fickes but, in return, will provide fewer services for him. It’s unclear how much the city will forgo in sales-tax collection. The city is barred by law from reporting how much sales taxes it collects from any business, including Classic Lanes. Fickes said he pays about $2,500 annually to the city in sales tax he collects from food, beverage and equipment sales at Classic Lanes.
Q — Will the city still have to provide services to Classic Lanes if it deannexes, even though the owners will no longer be rendering sales taxes to the city?
A — If Classic Lanes owner Fickes withdraws from city
limits, he’ll pay higher rates for Greeley water and will pay sales tax to Garden City, which will be responsible for police protection. Fire protection from Union Colony Fire/Rescue Authority will remain the same, and Fickes will continue to pay for it. Property taxes are assessed on properties inside Western Hills fire protection district, which would include Classic Lanes if it deannexed, said Greeley Finance Director Tim Nash. But service that Greeley expects to continue to provide even if Fickes de-annexes are street maintenance, cleaning and snow-plowing for the portion of 25th Street that is adjacent to Fickes’ property, said Community Development Director Becky Safarik.
Fickes properties take up about a block adjacent to 25th Street. The rule of thumb is that there are 12 blocks to a mile, Safarik said. Using that as a guide, the city may spend $1,080 annually to continue taking care of the street in front of Fickes’ place.
Q & A about the possible deannexation
Q — Why is Fickes asking to deannex two properties — his bowling center and the adjacent day-care center?
A — Fickes is asking voters to remove from city limits Classic Lanes and the property that now operates as Theresa’s Tall Giraffes Day Camp Center, 715 25th St. The day-care center is sandwiched between Garden City limits and the bowling alley and needs to be deannexed from Greeley in order for the bowling center to be eligible for inclusion into Garden City. The day camp center does not allow smoking now and will not even if it is deannexed, said Adrienne Simms, day-care center director.
Q — Why doesn’t the Greeley City Council adjust the smoking ban to accommodate business owners such as Fickes?
A — The city council has previously entertained requests to relax the smoking rules but declined. The council was preparing to revisit the issue again this month. But those plans were suspended after City Attorney Rick Brady offered a legal opinion that the council does not have authority under the state constitution to tinker with the city’s smoking ban because it is a voter-approved initiative.
Q — If Fickes deannexes, won’t that set the stage for other businesses who want to escape the smoking ban to
A — Other businesses have the legal right to ask voters to allow them to deannex, too, but doing so would likely be expensive. The city requires that people who want to put a deannexation question on the ballot to bear their share of the election cost. Fickes paid the city more than $17,000 to put question 2B on the ballot.