Bouquets and Brickbats: County ahead of curve on smoking ban

A new study showing that 600,000 people worldwide die every year from second-hand smoke is further evidence that SLO County communities were on the right track in banning smoking, first in bars, restaurants and other public venues, and more recently in many outdoor locations as well.

We know that some of the laws — especially SLO city’s ban on smoking on sidewalks — strike some as unduly harsh. But we’re convinced that protecting public health trumps the “rights” of smokers — and we toss baby’s breath bouquets to local agencies that have enacted tough smoking bans.

Blame to go around on $2M in errors

SLO County earns a mathematically challenged brickbat for its series of accounting errors totaling nearly $2 million. Over the course of several years, the trial courts and Probation Department underpaid the state its share of fines and penalties by $1.6 million, and Social Services overpaid some benefit recipients nearly $250,000.

It shouldn’t have happened, but there are mitigating factors. The $1.6 million already has been paid to the state, and measures have been put in place to prevent a repeat of the snafu.

So on second thought, we’ll cancel the county’s brickbat and reroute it to the state of California, which apparently intends to charge the county interest and penalties for the underpayment.

That stinks on two counts. No. 1: If the state’s formulas for calculating payments didn’t change so often and weren’t so complicated, the errors would likely have never occurred.

And No. 2: The state’s been raiding the coffers of local governments for years — and now it wants even more money?

Congratulations to Saxum Winery

We offer a toast and a vine-ripened bouquet to Saxum Winery of Paso Robles, for placing first on the prestigious Wine Spectator magazine’s list of top 100 wines. The Saxum James Berry Vineyard 2007 — a blend of Grenache, syrah and mourvedre — took top honors.

Good luck finding a bottle, though. Tribune writer Raven J. Railey tells us the wine — released at $67 — was going for as much as $300 online. And that was a week ago.

Plaudits for county deputies

Deputies represented by the newly formed Association of San Luis Obispo County Deputy Sheriffs have agreed to stand pat on compensation. They accepted a 2.98 raise — but will increase their pension contribution by 2.98 percent.

It’s good to see another public employee group recognize that government simply can’t afford raises right now. It will likely take many more financial sacrifices before we’re out of this mess, but for now, we offer a generous bouquet to the deputies.