Houlton town council OKs ‘smoking police’
HOULTON, Maine — After significant debate on Monday evening, Town Councilors approved changes in the community’s public smoking ban to allow tobacco use in designated areas of the John A. Millar Civic Center and in municipal parks under specific situations.
The changes arose after discussion about the difficulty in enforcing existing ordinances and the interest of some groups to providing designated smoking areas when sponsoring events.
Smoking currently is not allowed at the Millar Civic Center or in municipal parks. The civic center sits on the edge of Community Park and there are signs up in the area telling citizens that they can’t smoke or use other tobacco products.
Now that the amendment has passed, the council can temporarily authorize people or groups who lease the civic center or municipal parks to use an outside designated area for the use of tobacco products that complies with all laws. Lessees would be responsible for cleanup of the designated area.
The councilors also could amend an ordinance to allow the council to temporarily suspend the smoking prohibition for specific areas as designated by a resolution.
Councilors indicated during their June 11 meeting that officials have had difficulty in the past enforcing the tobacco ban in the park. The upcoming Houlton Agricultural Fair in the park prompted councilors to take up the issue, but the fair committee has not asked for a designated smoking area at the upcoming fair, the council said on Monday evening.
Town Manager William MacDonald said now that the amendment has passed, groups or citizens renting the building could consider establishing an area for smoking that could be monitored. They would have to specify that on the lease application and clean up the smoking area, as well, before leaving.
The town manager said that the amendment would only apply to the civic center and not other public buildings, and that smoking would not be allowed when educational events are taking place in the building that could attract children.
Councilor Sue Tortello asked on Monday evening where such a designated smoking area would be located.
MacDonald said the area needs to be measured, and the smoking space would likely be off of the north door on the north side of the Millar Civic Center toward the woods. He added that it would likely be a cordoned-off area with something like a rope for safety.
If those who rent it do not clean it up properly after renting it the first time, they likely would not be allowed to rent it a second time, he said on Monday evening.
Some councilors said they were against the policy because they felt that it was taking a step backwards, especially since the town already had a policy of no smoking in the civic center or local parks, and there were signs posted all over town stating that.
Councilor Jane Torres, who also is the executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, said that people were still smoking in the parks and at the civic center even though they were not allowed.
“People are smoking at the parks and it is not being enforced,” she said. “They smoked at the Blackfly Brewfest right in front of the police. I would rather have them smoke in a designated place.”
Councilors eventually voted 3-2 to amend the policy at the civic center and unanimously to amend the park policy.