Sweepstakes establishments high on list of priorities.
All five members of the Macon County Board of Commissioners will be attending the North Carolina Association of County Commissioner (NCACC) Legislative Day in Raleigh next Wednesday, May 30.
The commissioners trip is part of the NCACC’s annual County Assembly Day, where county officials from across the state travel to the state capital to be a part of discussions surrounding priority legislative issues. County Commissioner Ronnie Beale currently serves as the Second Vice President for the NCACC, a post to which he was elected in August 2011.
County commissioners will each have a chance to meet with their district representatives. According to Commission Chair Kevin Corbin, the Macon County Commissioners will be meeting with Senator Jim Davis and House members Roger West and Phil Haire.
“We have a responsibility as Commissioners to weigh in on issues that affect the county and its citizens and push against any legislation that would pass tax burdens to the counties,” said Corbin. “We will be doing this all day on Wednesday, May 30. Commissioners need to communicate with our State leaders. We are elected to represent the people of Macon County in all matters that might affect them. Sending e-mails and even leaving voice messages with our legislators is a fair form of communication, but there is nothing as powerful as sitting face to face with our State leaders and expressing our concerns for Macon County. They have been very responsive to us in two years of my tenure as a commissioner, and we expect that will continue.”
Commissioners will take part in a morning session on Wednesday in which a review of the political landscape of the state will be given in addition to keynote addresses from Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
According to Corbin, the Macon County Commissioners plan to hold discussions with the state legislators about several pertinent issues currently affecting Maconians. “We will be asking them, among other things, to not pass unfunded mandates to counties,” said Corbin. “For example, last year, some state committees began discussions about possibly passing highway/road maintenance responsibilities to the counties. We were successful in stopping that discussion because the counties are not set up to maintain roads either in equipment or personnel. It would have cost a county like Macon millions of dollars to equip for such service.”
Another major issue Corbin anticipates being discussed next week is a plan of action to regulate “sweepstakes” businesses throughout the county. “We will be discussing possible legislation which would regulate these “sweepstakes” businesses that have been popping up especially in border counties like us and Henderson,” said Corbin. “We have a meeting with Senator Davis and Senator Tom Apodoca of Hendersonville to discuss our common interest in this issue.”
Due to the issue currently being debated in the General Assembly, there are no laws in place to regulate the businesses, and law enforcement have been advised to delay bringing any charges against “sweepstakes” establishments. These establishments, which have seen an increase in concentration along U.S. 441 beginning at the North Carolina/Georgia state line, provide customers with tokens for time to play video game machines that allow patrons to potentially win prizes. Because of the current design of machines, customers are gambling over the internet or through their phone, which allows the establishments the luxury of not having to abide by the state laws regarding gambling.
Commissioners discussed the issue during their board meeting last week, and came to the unanimous conclusion that something needs to be done about it. “I don’t think this is what we want to see as we promote Macon County,” said Commissioner Ronnie Beale. “When you cross the Georgia line, they’re the first things you see coming into Franklin.”
Sheriff Robbie Holland spoke to the board at the meetings and confirmed that the Sheriff’s Office has been getting complaints from residents as the number of gaming parlors increases, but say at this time, nothing can be done about them.
“Are some violating the law? Absolutely,” said Holland. “But our hands are tied and there is not much we can do about them at this time.”
County Attorney Chester Jones noted the legislature has been fighting with this issue for several years because once a law banning sweepstakes machines passes, the gaming industry finds a loop hole by altering something in the wording or game operation to keep them legal.
Commissioners are doubtful the sweepstakes establishments will be eliminated entirely but hope by working with the state to construct legislature that allows them to levy taxes on the games the county will gain some control.
While meeting with Macon and Henderson representatives next week, commissioners plan to work together to find a solution. Henderson County is facing similar problems with sweepstakes machines and has developed a resolution to send to the legislature. Macon County plans to adopt a similar resolution later this year.
Other important issues that the county has identified as priority goals to discuss with state legislators include advocating for the reinstatement of ADM (Average Daily Membership) and lottery funds for school construction, ensuring the county receives adequate funding for mental health services, and preserving the existing local revenue base within the county.