Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem Council tables proposal to keep city kids out of arcades during school hours

An Italian festival planned for the city

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - A proposed ordinance that would prohibit only Bethlehem children from being in video arcades when schools are in session was tabled by Bethlehem City Council Tuesday night.

Council member Karen Dolan, who recommended tabling, called the proposed law silly, ridiculous and unenforceable.

She and at least a couple of other council members wanted to just flat-out reject it and repeal the original law it is based upon.

The proposal states no one under the age of 17 who is enrolled in Bethlehem area schools shall be permitted in the premises of any licensed video amusement arcade between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on any day those schools are in session.

Dolan said it is not the city's responsibility to tell parents or the Bethlehem Area School District how to do their jobs.

A company called Kids Quest has requested the change to the ordinance because it plans to put a video arcade in the Sands outlet center in south Bethlehem. The company says that arcade will open later this spring.

The existing ordinance does not allow any children under age 17 to be in video arcades during the hours when Bethlehem area schools are in session.

Atty. Matthew Kloiber, the assistant city solicitor, explained the proposed change would allow children from outside the area, who have been brought to the Sands complex by their parents, to be in the Kids Quest arcade between 8 and 3 while their parents shop or go to the Sands Casino.

Kids Quest operates children's entertainment centers and "non-violent"
arcades. According to a news release, it has them in other casinos across the country.

The family-owned company calls itself a nationally recognized leader in supervised children's entertainment, "providing kids the opportunity to play in a safe and secure environment."

Dolan asked if the school district does not already have truancy laws "that would cover something like this?" She said such laws require children to be in school whenever school is in session, unless they are sick.

Dolan also wondered if there is a groundswell among parents "to have city government do their jobs for them" or for the school district.

"We aren't in schools, we're not parents."

"It's kind of like a cover, so if kids are in there playing between 8 to 3 they can always say they're not from Bethlehem area schools," said Dolan.

She also said local kindergarten children only have a half day of school. "Are they going to card them to see if they are 6 or 7?" she asked.

She questioned how the ordinance would be enforced. Kloiber said enforcement would be done by city police, but acknowledged it will be tough to enforce.

Kloiber said children from outside the area who would be at Kids Quest would be covered by truancy laws in their own school districts.

Council member Adam Waldron asked if there has ever been enforcement of the current ordinance, which bans all children from video arcades when Bethlehem schools are in session.

Answering his own question, Waldron said: "I guess probably not, because the venue for it doesn't exist yet."

But Kloiber said it is an old and outdated ordinance -- "it's been around for quite some time" -- and the city administration is not opposed to simply repealing it.

"I'm not sure how much it has been enforced over time," he said. "It may have been lost in time until this came up recently."

Council member Eric Evans said he would support the move to repeal the entire ordinance. He said with truancy laws on the books, the ordinance seems redundant and also felt it would be difficult for police to enforce.

When Dolan suggested repealing the entire ordinance, Atty. Jack Spirk, City Council's solicitor, recommended that would be a substantial change council members could not make by simply amending the proposal before them.

Spirk said tabling would be appropriate. Council voted 7-0 to do just that.

Main Street Italian festival planned

Council member Bryan Callahan, who chairs its community development committee, announced to his colleagues that an effort is underway to hold an Italian festival on Main Street in Bethlehem.

He said the festival may be scheduled during the third week in June.

"We're trying to get more foot traffic into the Main Street area throughout the summer months to help out these business owners so they can get through this year," said Callahan. "It would be a great thing for the city.

"With the harsh winter we had, a number of businesses on Main Street really struggled. Some made zero."

Callahan later said some Main Street shop owners are afraid they'll no longer be there at the end of 2014 unless business picks up. If we have a lot of rain in the coming months, it could sink them."

Callahan said several "big corporate sponsors" already are very interested in participating in the festival, as well as a number of potential volunteers.

He expects this year's first Italian festival probably will be bigger than initially imagined.

Library board changes

Because Lower Saucon Township cut ties with the Bethlehem Area Public Library last year, on Tuesday City Council voted to reduce the size of the library's board from 13 to 11 members.

And only seven board members will be city residents rather than eight.

Lower Saucon had appointed one member to the library board. When its seat on the board was eliminated, one city board position also was eliminated, explained Spirk.

Council president J. William Reynolds asked David Brong, Bethlehem's business administrator, about the financial impact of Lower Saucon's withdrawal.

"Lower Saucon's exit was anticipated and the effect was budgeted," said Brong. "Fortunately, the library has done an excellent job reducing its own costs. This year the city is not seeing any additional contribution [to the library] because of that."

Brong later said the library was getting about $180,000 a year from Lower Saucon. "The library reduced its spending by about that much."

He estimated its total budget is around $2 million.

Reynolds said City Council traditionally had one seat on the library board, but that seat has been lost by the change in the number of board members.

In response to a question from Evans, former library board member Reynolds stressed he can't speak for them, but said Bethlehem Township, Northampton County's Hanover Township, Fountain Hill and Freemansburg all have indicated they want to remain part of the Bethlehem area library.

He added many Hanover and Bethlehem township residents already believe they live in Bethlehem - probably because they have Bethlehem mailing addresses.

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