10/03/12 — Mount Olive delays action on Internet cafes

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Mount Olive delays action on Internet cafes

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 3, 2012 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Town commissioners Monday night appeared more comfortable with a scaled-back proposal for establishing the town's first set of rules regulating Internet cafes, or electronic gaming operations.

However, for the second time in as many months, the board put off action on the ordinance, this time to allow themselves time to review it.

When it was introduced last month, commissioners were apprehensive the more-restrictive wording would discourage an industry that the town views as a cash cow. The annual privilege license of $2,500 and the $500 fee per machine would not change.

Between the cost of a privilege license and fees associated with the maximum number of machines, 20 per business, the town stands to realize $20,000 a year per cafe.

Last month's public hearing on the proposed ordinance generated no comments other than from board members and town attorney Carroll Turner who voiced concerns the proposal would be unduly burdensome and unfair.

The board tabled the issue, telling Turner, who was the most outspoken on the issue, to review the ordinance and offer recommendations.

The revamped proposal offered by Turner on Monday night maintains the requirement that the cafes be at least 1,500 feet from other Internet cafes, as well as churches, schools, libraries or cemeteries.

What is missing was a requirement that the businesses hire a surveyor to certify the distance -- something board members had said was an unfair expense.

Also missing were limits on the businesses' operating hours. The original proposal would have limited the hours from 8 a.m. to midnight.

Turner said that the existing businesses are open 24 hours a day, and that he saw no need to dictate a business' operating hours.

Another change recommended by Turner concerned fines that would be levied against the cafes that failed to obtain the necessary permits. The original fine was 100 percent of the total fees due.

Turner argued the fee was excessive and suggested 10 percent instead.

"The cost of the fee to start one of these with 20 machines is $20,000," Turner said. "That is pretty strong medicine for your local privilege license to start a business. To say that if you fail to get the permit you'd be penalized another $20,000, personally I thought was a little bit rough."

As proposed, the businesses would be limited to C-2 (heavy commercial) and C-4 (major highway corridors) zones. It also limits the number of machines to 20 per business.

Commissioners will review the revised ordinance prior to their November session. At that time they can approve either version or do nothing at all, Turner said.

In other business, the board took no action on whether or not to purchase a surveillance camera system.

Commissioner Ed Cromartie last month broached the use of cameras to help deter crime.

Town Manager Charles Brown said that he and police Chief Brian Rhodes had done some research on camera systems and related costs.

Brown said the town had two options -- a system that would require around-the-clock monitoring or a system that could be used as an apprehension tool.

The first option would be more costly because it would require the town to hire at least three new employees to monitor the camera feeds.

The second would not require additional help. If a crime or incident occurred, police could review recorded footage to see if it had been captured by the system.

Such a system would probably be placed in the downtown area, he said.

Commissioners told Brown to continue to look into camera systems and cost and report back to them in November.