Laurinburg officials hopes to slow the growth of internet sweepstakes locations by increasing fees for running internet cafes.
The City Council has asked Assistant City Attorney Charles Hicks, Jr. to draft an ordinance establishing new business license fees for the online gaming sites, to be presented at the council meeting on Tuesday.
Under the proposed fees, a business with sweepstakes machines will have to pay $2,000 to operate the business plus $2,500 per sweepstakes machine. The ordinance will not differentiate between consoles or computers.
The annual fees would start July 1 for existing businesses and immediately for any new business seeking to have the machines.
“There was a fairly unanimous consensus that these establishments are not desirable and adversely affect the quality of life, image and general welfare of the community,” Mayor Matthew Block said. “The feeling is that these establishments contribute to crime, illicit activity and prey upon the vulnerabilities of many of the citizens who can least afford it. City Council was quite strong in their desire to stop the growth of this type of activity and to make sure that the people profiting from these businesses shoulder the costs to the city that their presence creates.”
Councilman Herbert Rainer was the main advocate of the fee hike.
“We’re trying to prevent the growth of this disease,” Rainer said. “… If somebody really wants to get in, they are going to have to pay.”
A 30-day moratorium on issuing new licenses for internet sweepstakes businesses is also set to expire next week.
Councilman Tommy Parker mentioned the idea of extending the moratorium if an adequate proposal could not be brought to council by Tuesday.
City Manager Ed Burchins told the council that was unwise, as establishing the fee, no matter how high, was better for the city than extending the current moratorium. Burchins said the city could open itself up to a lawsuit by someone unable to start a business.
In other business, city council discussed its two contracts with Marlowe & Company, a Washington-based lobbying firm.
One contract is for the lobbying firm to advocate on behalf of city and county needs, with Laurinburg and Scotland County splitting the $36,000 bill evenly.
Burchins recommended the council not renew this contract as the city has been ill-served by the contract, footing half the costs for the contract even though the only benefits have been an emergency shelter for the county.
The other contract, a $24,000 contract split between the city, the town of Maxton and the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport, has been effective at aiding the airport at resurfacing its decaying runway, Burchins said. He recommended the city continue with this contract, assuming the other entities each pay their share.