In effort to halt electronic gaming machines from springing up across Ashe County before the North Carolina Supreme Court rules on their legality in September, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners passed a new electronic gaming ordinance Monday afternoon.
“I think we have to keep ahead of this thing,” said Ashe County Commissioner Judy Poe on July 2. “We can’t come in behind it. This (ordinance) is just setting up some rules and regulations. To me, we need to get this on the books to protect the county, instead of just letting these games go anywhere and put them where they want to.”
The ordinance passed 4-1, with Commissioner Gerald Price in opposition.
The new ordinance creates a permitting process for electronic gaming machines inside county borders, and imposes 1,000 foot setbacks that prohibit gaming machines within 1,000 feet of playgrounds, churches, schools, and other gaming machines.
The vote allows commissioners to hold a public hearing on Aug. 6 to consider passage of a nine-month moratorium on new gaming machines that will give county government an opportunity to craft a more detailed electronic gaming ordinance.
“There is nothing that prevents a county from setting up an ordinance that requires a permit, and then issuing a moratorium based on that newly issued ordinance,” said Ashe County Planner Zach Edwardson on July 2. “The School of Government also indicated that moratoriums under a year are generally considered not a problem under state and federal law. Once you go over one year, you have to have a very good reason why you’re doing a moratorium.”
Monday’s vote was made necessary when the same ordinance failed on July 2 when Commissioner Gerald Price voted against it, citing the Constitution of the United States. Price said he was not comfortable voting on a county ordinance when the NC Supreme Court had yet to rule on the legality of sweepstakes gaming machines.
A decision by the NC 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in March ruled a 2010 state law banning “sweepstakes gaming machines” was unconstitutional. The case is scheduled to be heard by the NC Supreme Court but, in the meantime, the machines can continue to be operated by private business owners across the state.
Commissioners also approved a new three year lease on county owned buildings to Daymark Recovery Services, the mental health service provider that took over after the collapse of New River Behavioral Healthcare.
The new lease, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 1 and run through June 30, 2015, will charge Daymark $6 per square foot.
“The lease will be renewable 60 days prior to June 30, 2015, and the rate increase at that time will not exceed an increase of $1 dollar per square foot,” said Mitchell. “It could increase to $7 per square foot, but we’ll work on that at that time.”
Mitchell said the justification for the $6 per square foot price was based on numerous conversation with Alleghany and Wilkes County officials, as well as a study done at Family Central on lease rates.
“Don Adams in Alleghany County has a very similar building to ours, and he said his price will come to $5.75-$6 per square foot, so I think our ($6 per square foot) price is keeping with fair market value,” said Mitchell.
The county will be responsible for roof and exterior wall maintenance, and internal systems including heating and air. Interior maintenance will be the responsibility of Daymark.
“It’s our building and we want to know that it is being properly maintained so, if there is roof or systems work that needs to be done, we would take on that responsibility so we know that our building is being maintained,” said Mitchell.
Daymark will be responsible for all utilities, but will pay no property taxes as they do not own the building.
Mitchell told commissioners, should Daymark refuse the $6 per square foot lease rate, “I’ll be back here with you, and we’ll be running a month to month lease until we can work out something long term.”
Capital reserve fund
Mitchell recommended that lease funds received from Daymark be placed into a capital reserve fund to be used for future building projects.
According to County Finance Director Sandy Long, the funding placed into a capital reserve fund cannot be used without commissioner approval.
“We can only come to you, and it’s just controlled in that sense,” said Long. “We would have to ask your permission to use the money for expenditures.”
The funds could be used for roof maintenance and repair work on buildings the county owns.
“After awhile, this money is going to build up and if future commissioners want to use this money, they could.”