Buckhannon aims toward better quality of life

Two proposed ordinances aimed at improving the health and quality of life for Buckhannon residents were presented recently to the City Council.

City attorney David McCauley drafted both ordinances – one banning the use of synthetic drugs, the other proposing to make the city parks a tobacco-free area.

The ordinance prohibiting the sale, use, manufacture and possession of synthetic drugs was approved on first reading by unanimous vote. Mayor Kenneth Davidson was not able to attend the meeting Thursday, but he previously spoke in favor of the ordinance. If the ordinance is approved at its second and third readings without delay, it can be adopted and go into effect as early as April 6.

“These things can have an overall impact on the overall welfare of our community,” McCauley said about the ordinances, adding that it was a “quality-of-life thing.”

If it is approved, the ordinance will prohibit synthetic cannabinoids, substituted cathinones, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) or “any other synthetic drug whose chemical composition is similar to any drug or generally marketed or packaged as those designer drugs commonly called ‘bath salts.'”

The ordinance also states that the labeling “not for human consumption,” or similar words, are not exemptions from the enforcement of the ordinance. Violations of the ordinance would be considered misdemeanor offenses, and would carry fines up to $500, plus court costs, upon conviction. Each day of any continued violations would be considered as a separate instance, compounding the potential fine if convicted in multiple instances.

The other ordinance is designed to reduce the harmful effects of secondary tobacco exposure in public city parks. If the tobacco-free park ordinance is approved for first reading and remaining readings without delay, it could be effective as early April 20.

The current draft of the ordinance proposes that the monetary penalty for the offenses of tobacco use in public parks and recreational areas would increase with each occurrence. The first offense could carry a $50 fine. Subsequent offenses could increase the fine by as much as $100 per instance.

The drafted ordinance also prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes in parks and recreational areas.

“I might be a little hesitant to ban something that’s construed as helping someone to quit smoking,” Councilman Ron Pugh said.

Recorder Rich Clemens said it wasn’t a ban on the use of the product, but a ban from it being used in certain areas.

McCauley said part of the reason the electronic cigarettes were included is to avert the possibility of an offender claiming he was using the electronic cigarette instead of an actual cigarette when cited by police. If it isn’t also banned with cigarettes and other tobacco products, someone reporting the matter to police officers could also mistake it for a cigarette.

A concern regarding the need for police enforcing the ordinance was raised.

“Officers have more than enough to deal with than answering calls for smoking,” Councilman Scott Preston said. “It could be a burden for police, and that’s the last thing I want to see happen.”

Pugh noted it is the city leaders’ job to take care of the citizens of Buckhannon, and he thinks the ordinance could improve the quality of life for those citizens.

McCauley noted the tobacco ban would not cover all city property. He said if the City Council wanted to make a full-scale ban, it would be able to do so in the ordinance. McCauley, however, said he did not recommend a full-scale ban.

The ordinance also could affect the West Virginia Strawberry Festival. In addition to protecting residents and visitors from the exposure to tobacco products and secondhand smoke in city parks and recreational facilities, the drafted ordinance McCauley presented at the meeting also proposes that locations of fairs and festivals remain tobacco-free while they are in progress.

McCauley said signs would need to go up at all affected parks and recreational facilities, if this ordinance is adopted. McCauley said similar ordinances in the state have a wider ban on public tobacco use, extending the ban to municipally owned parking lots and hospitals. Some ordinances place a restriction on the distances from these locations where smoking may occur.

The ordinance could be up for its first reading March 7.