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Timetable tight for hearing on smoking ban


People who want to testify on Councilman C. Vernon Gray's no-smoking bill at a County Council public hearing tonight had better arrive early.

The bill is the 11th item on an agenda that includes many bills related to the budget.

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said she would limit discussion of the bill to an hour -- a half-hour for proponents and a half-hour for opponents. After that, anyone still wishing to testify will have to wait until all other legislation has been considered, Ms. Pendergrass said.

Speakers will be limited to three minutes each. The order will be determined from a sign-up sheet placed in the lobby at 7 p.m. The hearing begins at 8 p.m.

Mr. Gray, a 3rd District Democrat, wants to ban smoking in all public places except bars, effective July 1, 1995. His bill would, in the meantime, reduce the amount of restaurant seating available to smokers, increase the amount of employee work space that must be smoke-free and forbid retaliation by employers against nonsmokers who demand a smoke-free environment.

Restaurants seating 50 or more people would have to provide a nonsmoking area of at least 75 percent. Current law applying to restaurants seating 75 or more has no percentage requirement.

A half-hour before its regular legislative hearing, the council will hold a final public hearing on the proposed $76 million capital budget and the proposed $289 million operating budget.

During its work sessions, the council tentatively decided to make a major change in the allocation of funds in the operating budget, while leaving the capital budget relatively unscathed.

By a vote split along party lines, the council proposes to cut $1 million from the nonschool system portion of the budget and give to the Board of Education. It arrived at the $1 million figure by cutting road resurfacing $600,000, data processing $100,000, self-insurance $200,000, and radio maintenance $100,000.

The council will vote on the budgets and set the property tax rate at noon Thursday. The tax rate is expected to remain unchanged at $2.59 per $100 of assessed value.

Although the property tax rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is identical to this year's rate, homeowners will pay more in taxes because of increases in assessed value. The owner of a $200,000 house, for example, will be paying $2,176 in property taxes, $104 more than for the current fiscal year.

The council will also receive testimony during the budget hearing on the so-called constant-yield tax rate -- the rate the county would have to charge in fiscal 1994 to receive the same amount of property tax revenue it did in fiscal 1993. The constant-yield rate is $2.50 -- 9 cents less than property owners pay now.

In addition to the 56 pieces of legislation on budget matters and the smoking bill, the council will hear testimony on legislation urging local cable television companies to request the networks to increase programming available in a closed captioning format.

The council will also consider two personnel bills. The bills would elevate the status of council legislative assistants one pay grade and make them career employees rather than appointees. The bills would also elevate the corrections director and the deputy director of planning and zoning one pay grade and make appointees of the five bureau chiefs in the Department of Public Works.

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