04/06/10 — Internet parlors face new rules

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Internet parlors face new rules

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 6, 2010 2:01 PM

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A new fee schedule passed Monday night by members of the Goldsboro City Council will make it more expensive for businesses like this internet parlor to continue to operate.

As of June 1, the half-dozen "Internet cafes" that operate inside the city limits will be required to turn over some of what Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra characterized as lucrative profits.

An amendment to the city's Code of Ordinances -- one that will require the businesses to pay a $2,500 licensing fee and an additional $1,000 per machine tax -- was unanimously approved by the City Council Monday, an action Cianfarra said represents the first step toward establishing some level of control over these types of establishments.

And control, the others who attended the board's pre-meeting work session agreed, is needed.

"They do need to be monitored," City Manager Joe Huffman said.

"We need to do something," Mayor Al King added. "These (Internet cafes) are going to present some issues. We need to watch this very carefully."

Cianfarra and Finance Director Kaye Scott said they got the idea to levy additional fees from cities across the state.

"Business licenses are running anywhere from $500 to $2,500 ... and from $200 to $2,000 per machine," Cianfarra said.

So adopting similar fees in Goldsboro, he added, would simply be maintaining the status quo -- not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars the action would bring into city coffers.

"Some of our Internet cafes have as many as 35 to 40 machines," he said.

But establishing control and, in turn, bringing in revenue, were not the only Internet cafe-related issues discussed by the council Monday.

Cianfarra also explained to the board just how these businesses operate -- detailing other problems he believes will surface as a result of their existence in the city.

"Basically, you're buying time on the Internet, and when you 'cash out' ... you sell the time that you won in the 'game,' you sell that back to them," he said. "They pay you out."

And because more stringent restrictions are not currently in place, some of these cafes stay open 24 hours a day, and, at times, attract undesirable people and behavior.

"The problem is, if you have 40 machines, you may have two or three people who come with the person playing ... and you could have as many as 200 people (inside one of these cafes)," he said.

Such a crowd, he said, also brings with it the possibility of occupancy violations and parking woes.

"If they are going to have 40 terminals, is there any way of requiring them to have 40 parking spaces?" Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen asked.

Planning Director Randy Guthrie said no.

In fact, when the first Internet cafe opened in Goldsboro, the council decided they did not fall under the classification of "a place of entertainment," a label that would have required more from the business owner.

"It was determined more of a retail-type use," Guthrie said, adding that he would suggest the council either designate the cafes as places of entertainment or adopt new guidelines specific to Internet cafes.

Only then, he said, would the level of control the board seems to want, exist.

After nearly a half-hour of discussion, Guthrie and Cianfarra were asked by the mayor to report back to the council with additional recommendations at a later date.

"I have a feeling we're not going to solve this tonight," King said.

But it seemed clear that the issue of Internet cafes will remain in the city's sights for some time.

"You want control," Allen said. "You even want to control where these places go, in my opinion."