Council hears from citizens about Internet Cafe legislation
By Matt Echelberry
Galion City Council held a meeting on Sept. 25. Proposed legislation for special regulations of internet sweepstakes cafes was discussed that evening and many citizens were present to argue against the regulations.
Ord. 2012–75 enacted a new chapter in the codified ordinances for the regulation of computerized sweepstakes and internet device cafes. City Manager Gene Toy explained that Laws and Ordinances requested to look at related ordinances from Macedonia, Ohio and other cities with Internet Cafe legislation.
The ordinance appearing that evening was drafted based on the ordinance in Macedonia. It called for an annual license fee of $5,000 for all internet sweepstakes cafes operating in the city and a $500 annual fee for each computer on the premises.
Council member Roberta Wade explained that Kurtiss Hirt, the owner of Internet Cafe in Galion, was currently in Europe. She moved to table the legislation and have the first reading at the next meeting, when the owner would be able to attend and offer his input or answer questions from Council.
The motion to table passed.
The first piece of legislation discussed was Ord. 2012–74 to amend section 557.04 of the Galion Codified Ordinances. The section deals with the removal of trees and shrubs on private property that are not maintained properly.
City Zoning Inspector Matt Ross explained this amendment started with a complaint about an overgrown lot in the city. His office could not do anything about it because the ordinance only allows for the removal of sick or dead trees and shrubs, not overgrown ones.*
The proposed update added verbage that unmaintained trees or shrubs would be eligible for removal as well if they constitute a “hazard to life, surrounding property and structures, create habitat for rodents, vermin or other pests, or constitute a threat to the lasting health of other trees in the City…”
Council member Cathy George, who is chair of the Laws and Ordinances Committee, said her main concern is with vacant homes being used for drug activity or vandalism. Overgrown shrubs make it difficult for the police and neighbors to see inside.
Baldinger took issue with the ordinance because “private property” pertains to more than abandoned homes. Keib agreed, saying the wording was too broad.
After some discussion, George moved to table the legislation so it could be reworked. She also asked Ross to look at related legislation in other communities so the committee could refer to it.
The motion to table passed.
Ord. 2012–76 adopted a collection policy for utility customers, income taxpayers and city departments who owe money to the city. Under the policy, the finance department would have the authority to forward the accounts of delinquent customers to a third party collection agency.
Finance Director Karen Walters explained that one of the state auditor’s conditions for allowing Galion to be removed from fiscal emergency was the implementation of such a collection procedure for unpaid utility funds. This will be a standardized policy.
If enacted, here’s how the policy works for residential utility customers (the increment of the number of days past due is approximate because it may fluctuate month-to-month):
30 days past due — a notice is sent to the customer that the account will be terminated
45 days past due — utility services are disconnected if the account is not paid
60 days past due — the account is closed at the end of the month and a final bill is mailed in the next billing cycle
90 days past due — a First Notice of Delinquent Account is sent,
105 days past due — a Final Notice is sent
120 days past due — the unpaid account is sent to the third party agency
The legislation passed as a first reading.
Res. 2012–9 transferred $89 from the police pension fund and $89 from the fire pension fund to go toward auditor and treasurer fees. This legislation was also passed.
In city manager comments, Toy said a pre-construction meeting was held in regards to the wastewater treatment plant project. Toy said it would start in about a month. The City also received approval from ODOT to begin a right-of-way acquisition that will be necessary for the State Route 598 widening project (which will not begin for at least another year).
He also announced the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast on Saturday, Sept. 29 from 7–11 a.m. at the Galion Intermediate School, and Oktoberfest, which is Sept. 27–29.
In citizen comments, Don Faulds addressed Council first. He thanked those who attended the public meeting on Sept. 19 about Prairie State, a meeting that he helped organize. “I’m glad to have seen that some councilmen attended,” Faulds stated. “I was kinda shocked that our city manager never attended.”
- During citizen comments, Galion resident Don Faulds calls out the city manager for not attending the Sept. 19 public meeting about Prairie State.
Also, he proposed that Council do a moratorium on the financing of any other AMP projects pending the outcome of a federal investigation into Prairie State. He encouraged Council to support the investigation of the plant by sending a letter to the Security and Exchange Commission.
Toy responded to Faulds’ comments. “When the meeting was announced at the last Council meeting, it was announced that it was going to be an open debate, not a bashing session,” Toy said. “Then about two sentences later, you said ‘this project is the Titanic and all you people are arranging the deck chairs.’ Sound to you like it’s going to be an open and honest debate? I don’t think so.”
“The meeting was on Wednesday the 19th, not September the 11th. That comment I made was on the 11th, not the 19th,” Faulds said.
Referring again to Faulds’ Titanic comment, Toy said, “Sure doesn’t sound to me like a room people are gonna walk into where there’s going to be an open flow of information.”
Faulds: I was just disappointed you didn’t show. I’m sure if it was a Crestline utility rate discussion you would have been there, but since it’s Galion, I understand.
Toy, who lives in Crestline, was visibly frustrated by the comment. The audience was silent for a few moments.
Then Faulds said: I have nothing against you, Mr. Toy.
Toy: Well it sure seems like it.
Faulds: I just find it amazing that you’re so defensive of this since you [became city manager] so many years after [the financing of the project] took place.
Toy: I’m not defensive at all. When you announce a meeting and you give a premise to that meeting, then you contradict yourself two sentences later, why should someone want to walk into that room? You knew before that meeting that the information presented was going to be one-sided and was going to be critical.
Bud Moffett was the next citizen to speak. He complained about all of the political signs that cover yards throughout town. “Now we get these take back our government signs…at least 90 percent of them are posted illegally.” He said they need to be on the residence side of sidewalks, not in the right-of-way as some of them are. He felt the violators should be fined or arrested.
Moffett also said that people who post comments on Galion Live are making the city look like a joke town because they do not know what they are talking about. “The whole world can see…Who would want to bring a business to ‘Galion Joke Town, U.S.A.’? I wouldn’t.”
Roy Lowenstein was there representing the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, based in Columbus. He spoke to Council about interest in renovating the Buckeye Arms apartment complex. (His organization did renovations there two years ago.)
- Roy Lowenstein from Buckeye Community Hope Foundation addresses Council about the prospect of renovating Buckeye Arms Apartments.
An application for funding needs to be sent to the Ohio House and Finance Agency before BCHF could receive funding for the renovations. However, Lowenstein explained that it is now necessary that he receive approval from City Council before the application would be approved. The application is due Oct. 4.
George asked what kinds of renovations would be made.
Lowenstein said that, if awarded funding, about $37,000 would be spent on each apartment to modernize and improve the living conditions. BCHF would also work on the community building and fix the parking lot. There would be some changes to the exterior appearance of the building as well, but no change in the floor plans.
“I’m not interested in supporting you if you bring labor from outside this city…That’s the trade off: I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” Keib said.
Lowenstein wanted to first research the contractors available in the area before committing. However, he added that he is in a much better position to hire local contractors now than he was two years ago and would interview suitable candidates.
He had previously contacted Toy about the issue. Toy explained to Council that in the letter of response he wrote to Lowenstein, a condition of the City’s support of the contract is that “local laborers and companies be given meaningful opportunity to participate in construction.”
Lowenstein said he was fine with that condition.
Because of the time-sensitive nature of the issue, Council took an informal vote to offer its support to the BCHF project to renovate Buckeye Arms. (There is not enough time to draft a formal resolution and approve it before the application deadline on Oct. 4.)
Chris Stone and Joe Kleinknecht were there that evening representing the Galion Chamber of Commerce. Stone spoke on behalf of the Chamber in light of that evening’s legislation to regulate the Internet Cafe.
Stone urged Council to vote no on the proposed ordinance. “Prosperous, thriving communities support prosperous and thriving businesses through collaboration, cooperation and assistance. Not burdensome and unrealistic regulations,” he said.
Stone continued that it is not the purpose of Council to reject potential revenue generation that could benefit the entire community. “Successful businesses provide products and services that consumers want or need. If they don’t, they will fail and close as a result of the consumers’ choices, not government oversight or intervention.”
Bob Godby spoke next, also about the Internet Cafe legislation. “Ms. George, I’m particularly offended by your desire to ram this through without proper representation of this business,” he commented.
Godby asked if anyone on Council visited the Cafe yet. Council was silent.
“You need to understand what this business is about personally…You cannot make a rational and logical decision without understanding,” he concluded.
Godby also agreed with Moffett’s statement about Galion being perceived as a joke. He felt any restrictions on businesses were simply not right and would send the wrong message to potential business ventures in the future, including his own business currently in development for a microbrewery/restaurant (he added that he has chosen not to open his business in Galion).
George responded that the Laws and Ordinances Committee, which had the legislation brought before Council, had been meeting about the Cafe for five months. She did not feel it was rushed and said that any representative of the business could have gone to those meetings. She also admitted that she did not know the Cafe was open.
Andrew Godby, a college student and employee at Internet Cafe, was the next citizen to speak. He explained that the Cafe is a legitimate business that offers food, drink and telephone time. Customers never lose the phone time they purchase.
He compared the business with sweepstakes offered at fast food restaurants, such as the peel-off stickers on drink cups, saying that the sweepstakes at the Cafe are no different.
Godby cited problems with the Macedonia ordinance that Laws and Ordinances reviewed to create that evening’s legislation. He said it was put into place prior to the state recognizing and regulating internet cafes.
He said the Cafe does not deserve unfair taxation because it pays sales tax and a city tax. It is also registered with the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
“Why is there a need to regulate this business after Ohio has already regulated it? Would you do that to an automotive mechanic or dentist?” he asked.
Godby also reported that 68 percent of their customers are from out of town, which can create more revenue for city.
Galion City Council’s next meeting is Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers.
* This is the current ordinance:
557.03 TRIMMING OF TREES AND SHRUBS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY.
The owner of every lot or parcel of land within the City upon which a tree, plant or shrub stands and which is damaging, interfering with or obstructing any sanitary sewer, storm sewer, manhole, catchbasin, drain, electric power lines, gas lines, water lines, or other public improvements shall cause such tree, plant or shrub to be trimmed, or cut down and removed so as to eliminate such damage, interference or obstruction and abate such nuisance condition. The City Manager or his designee is authorized to enter upon the property and examine any tree, plant or shrub within one hundred feet of any sanitary or storm sewer, manhole, catchbasin, drain, electric power line, gas line, water line, or other public improvement for purposes of this section.
557.04 REMOVAL OF TREES ON PRIVATE PROPERTY.
The owner of every lot or parcel of land within the City upon which a dead or diseased tree stands, when such tree constitutes a hazard to life or property or constitutes a threat to the lasting health of other trees in the City, shall cause such tree to be removed so as to abate such nuisance condition. The City Manager or his designee is authorized to enter upon such property and examine any tree suspected to be dead or diseased.