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Several cities and counties in Arkansas have banned smoking in their parks to maintain a healthy atmosphere for children and adults, but there is also an economic motive behind the bans.

Alma Mayor Keith Greene said the City Council is pursuing an ordinance after he was asked at a recent Arkansas Parks and Recreation Department hearing for a state Trails for Life Grant whether Alma banned smoking in its city parks. He said Alma had a draft ordinance.

Whether a city bans smoking in its parks isn't a major consideration in awarding state recreation grants, and the state does not require such a ban, said John Beneke, outdoor recreation grants program director.

But in the keen competition for grant money, "it matters," he said.

Beneke pointed out that Alma was one of five cities awarded a share of $180,000 in Trails for Life Grants this year. There were 27 applicants for the grant money, Beneke said.

"When you apply for grants, if you have a smoking ban in parks, it gives you an advantage in grant acceptance," Greene said.

Greene said Alma will use its $42,000 grant to build a trail that will connect its Boys and Girls Club with housing complexes nearby. Beneke said the grants program will provide the signs to be erected along the trail declaring it a smoke-free zone.

Mena's parks director, Nathan Fowler, said last month that the lack of a smoking ban for its parks hurt the city's ability to get certain grants because the city couldn't claim smoke-free status.

The Alma City Council did not pass its proposed ordinance as it intended when it met Thursday evening. The ordinance specified that smoking would be banned on all city property. Aldermen expressed concern that the ordinance would include bans on smoking in places like city sidewalks and streets, in addition to parks.

"It's overreaching," Alderman James McGhee said. "We're looking at a lot of property."

The proposed ordinance also set the penalty for violating the ordinance at $150 to $1,000. Greene said he believes that aldermen will review the penalty in a study session and narrow the scope of the ordinance to ban smoking only in the parks.

Alma's website showed four city parks: City Park, Downtown Park, Farmers Market and Fishing Pier. Greene said the smoking ban also would include the Lake Alma Wildlife Observation Trail and Park, and the 3.8-mile hiking trail that surrounds the lake.

Alma Police Chief Russell White said enforcing the ordinance, especially on the hiking trail, would be impossible.

The proposed ordinance would amend the current ordinance by adding the parks to the list of places in Alma that would prohibit smoking. Alma's current ordinance, passed in 1993, bans smoking in public buildings and public vehicles, and levies fines for violators of $25 to $250 depending on the number of violations, Greene said.

Fort Smith's city-parks smoking ban, which city directors passed on Feb. 21, lists fines of $25 for the first violation to $100 for the third and subsequent violations.

Fort Smith's ordinance got people in Van Buren thinking about the issue and led to a discussion two weeks ago by the Van Buren Parks and Recreation Commission, city Planning Director Joe Hurst said. The Planning Department is over the Parks and Recreation Commission, Hurst said.

Parks commissioners and city aldermen received a lot of feedback from Van Buren residents wanting to make the parks safe for their children, he said. People reported instances of taking their children to city parks and having to leave because of secondhand smoke, he said.

He also said there have been complaints that discarded cigarette butts are a litter problem.

Hurst said he was drafting an ordinance to present to the commission at its April meeting. The commission will review the ordinance and could recommend it to the City Council for passage.

Van Buren lists seven parks on its website: Mr. Chad and Betty Ann Colley Wilderness Park, Dr. Louis Peer Memorial Park, Field of Dreams Sports Complex, Mike Meyers Park, Lee Creek Park, Van Buren Boys and Girls Club, and Van Zandt Park.

State Desk on 03/19/2017

Print Headline: Grants add incentive for cities to ban smoking in their parks

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