CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The city of Nitro is exploring yet another way to circumvent Kanawha County's indoor smoking ban.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said Friday that Nitro Mayor Rusty Casto called him with an offer he flatly refused.
Carper said Casto asked him to go before the Kanawha County Board of Health and tell board members that the dog track and casino will give $100,000 per year to the health department if board members will exempt part of the casino from the smoking ban.
"He asked would I be interested in conveying that message to the board," Carper said. "I told him, 'With all due respect Mr. Mayor, I am not your message boy.' "
When reached for comment, Casto said he hadn't yet spoken with track officials about the proposal.
He called it a "trial balloon."
"I was just throwing it out there," he said.
He said it was his idea for the track to donate money to help develop a smoking cessation program through the health department. In exchange, the health department would allow smoking in a segregated area of the casino, under Casto's proposal.
He likened the proposal to the fact that casinos pay a portion of their profits into a program that helps people break their addictions to gambling.
He deferred further comments to City Councilman Craig Matthews, who is calling for the city to break away from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and create its own municipal health department; a move that many officials said has little chance of success.
Calls to Matthews were not immediately returned.
Dan Adkins, president of Hartman and Tyner, owner of the racetrack, said he had no knowledge of Casto's request.
But Adkins said he has offered for the company to cover the expenses of a city-operated health department.
"We've had discussions with the city of Nitro about fees and the ways to cover the costs if they were able to create a health board of their own for two years now," he said. "The track has certainly indicated to the city that we would cover oversight and regulatory costs if the city was able to have its own health board.
"I don't know how that gets construed to we would be willing to pay the county health board for anything," he added. "That discussion has never taken place."