The "smokestack question" almost didn't make it to Murray voters for an answer.

A proposal for a June 23 bond election to decide the fate of the American Smelter and Refining Co. (ASARCO) smoke-stacks in downtown Murray squeaked past the City Council Tuesday night by a one-vote margin.After weeks of debate, council members finally voted 3-2 to allow residents to decide at a special election whether the city should issue up to $3.4 million in general obligation bonds to preserve the landmark smelter chimneys.

A motion by Councilman John Ward to slash the bond amount in half, to $1.7 million, died for the lack of a second.

Ward argued the $3.4 million figure is unfair because it does not take into account offsetting contributions that can be expected from ASARCO and current owners for environmental cleanup and in lieu of demolition costs.

He contended that offsets coupled with fund raising, developer contributions, revenues from marketing rights and other income could trim the bottom- line costs of preservation to $1 million or less.

But Councilmen Leon Robertson and Wendell Coombs, who cast the two dissenting votes, said they fear the cost of preserving the stacks may even exceed the "worst-case scenario" of $3.4 million suggested by Mayor Dan Snarr.

Robertson, council chairman, said he's opposed to putting the issue to a vote because the potential cost of preserving the chimneys poses too much risk.

He said he has talked to a couple of engineers in the past week who warned the cost of seismically stabilizing and preserving the chimneys could zoom as high as $7 million to $10 million."We're stuck with the liabilities . . . if we don't take them down now," Robertson added.

The $3.4 million figure is based on a recent engineering study.

Snarr said he's already factored the offsets mentioned by Ward into his $3.4 million estimate and is "comfortable" with that number.

"It's our obligation to plan for a worst-case scenario," added Councilman Gary Ferrero.

Councilman John Rush said he questions the wisdom of sinking money into the chimneys when the city's need for a new recreation center "is much more important than saving the stacks."

Ward said the $3.4 million worst-case scenario does a disservice to the public by creating the perception "that it will cost more to preserve the smoke-stacks than it really will."

A report prepared by the city's Historic Preservation Committee on smokestack funding projects one-time revenues of $100,000 from local fund-raising efforts and $500,000 from naming rights as well as $196,000 a year in income from telecommunication rentals, advertising income and other rental sources.