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Strip news rack fee hike called unfair

The operators of news racks flashing mostly sex-themed materials at tourists on the Strip are about to experience a steep increase in the cost of doing business.

After hearing objections from attorneys and business owners who warned that the fees will be challenged as a violation of the First Amendment, Clark County commissioners on Tuesday approved raising permit fees from $25 to $100 per news rack. The fee applies only to racks set up in the resort corridor.

“It is not fair to put the burden entirely on us,” said Eddie P. Munoz, whose business, Strip Advertising, has 559 racks around the county’s resort corridor. “We’re going to have to go to court to file for an injunction to stop this.”

Munoz said the fee increase could put him and similar companies out of business. He unsuccessfully asked commissioners to delay a decision so that both the county and business owners would have more time to study the issue.

“We were really only hit with this about two weeks ago,” Munoz said.

Les Henley, deputy director of Clark County public works, said the rate increase will abate the cost of enforcement that’s now supported by taxpayers. It costs his department about $338,000 a year for news rack services and enforcement. That figure includes staffing, the cost of vehicles and impoundment fees.

About 80 percent of that cost is paid by the county, Henley said. Increasing the rack fees would reverse that, shifting the bulk of the cost for enforcement to rack operators.

Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she thought that rack operators should support the entire cost of enforcement and services, a view shared by Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid.

Reid instructed county staff members to track the cost of news rack services and enforcement closely so that commissioners could revisit the ordinance with an eye toward recouping the expense.

The problem with the county’s action is that it places the cost burden on just one segment of Clark County’s news rack operators, said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. Assessing different fees on different news racks is constitutionally suspect, he said. And charging rack fees to businesses displaying sex-themed materials while operators of racks with other content are not charged is also suspect.

Lichtenstein also questioned some of the enforcement costs presented by the county. Although the budget includes things such as the cost of impoundment for news racks in violation of the ordinance, it doesn’t reflect the revenues obtained through sources such as impoundment fees.

Attorney Dominic Gentile also spoke against the ordinance, saying the county should look at instituting a countywide fee on a per rack basis. Assessing operators more just because their racks are in the gaming district is “an unfair burden on free speech.”

Contact reporter Lisa Kim Bach at lbach@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0287.

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