Kent council rejects bit to hike cable TV fees

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

TCI pays 5 percent of the revenue it receives from customers as a "franchise fee," which goes to the city. Up to now, the cable company has been subtracting the franchise fee from the amount it considers gross revenue. But a recent court ruling held that the franchise fee is also gross revenue and should be included in the calculation.

The committee voted 7-2 Wednesday against accepting the new rate, with Pease and Neff voting no because of the increased revenue it could bring the city.

Attorney R. Todd Hunt, who was consulted to provide legal advice on the issue to the city, estimated the increase could cost subscribers about 5 cents per month, and could bring the city about $4,872 next year. But other council members said rate increase to Kent residents wasn't worth it.

"Where do you think that money comes from?" Wilson said.

Law Director James Silver noted the issue could be revisited at any time.

Four new city employees, including a firefighter, are expected to be added to Kent's payroll in 1998.

In other business, council approved the addition of four new positions to the city's payroll as part of ongoing budget hearings. The new positions are expected to be finalized when council finalizes the budget next month.

In addition to the firefighter, additional positions in the budget include a secretary in the service department, a mechanic to replace the position of mechanic's helper, which is being phased out, and a program analyst in the community development department.

City Manager Lewis Steinbrecher said the firefighter would be assigned to assist in fire prevention programs and inspections, noting fire prevention is much more cost effective than fire suppression.

Now, he said, only state-mandated and complaint-driven fire inspections are done due to staff constraints. Education is assigned to whoever has time to handle the programs due to staff constraints, he said, and the additional firefighter could save the city $4,000 annually in overtime.

The firefighter would earn between $29,000 and $39,000 annually, said Barbara Rissland, director of budget and finance. Although the fire department's budget calls for an increase in overtime pay, Rissland noted the department's call volume is also up 18 percent this year.

Fire Chief James Williams said he hopes to move one of his firefighters up to the inspector's position, and plans to start the new firefighter at the bottom of the pay scale. The inspector would still be able to respond to fires and medical calls when necessary.

The secretary in the service department is necessary to provide clerical support to the service department, which increased as a result of last year's budget, when three new engineers were added. Last year, council also voted to make the development engineer a staff member instead of a consultant. The consulting fee had also included clerical support to that engineer, Steinbrecher noted.

Duties are split between two secretaries, Steinbrecher said, and when one is on vacation, professional staff must answer the phones instead of doing their own jobs.

The secretary would earn between $20,163 and $28,430 annually.

Councilman Ed Pease voted against the new secretary, saying he wanted assurance the new secretary would be paid at the bottom of the pay scale. But council members Wayne Wilson and Carol Neff argued council should trust Steinbrecher and the department heads to pay the secretary appropriately.

The mechanic would earn about $16.97 per hour, or about $1.49 more per hour than the mechanic's helper position pays, to do various mechanical work on the city's fleet of vehicles.

Service Director Dennis Missimi said the mechanic would save the city money because a variety of tasks could be done in-house. He said he is hoping he will be able to offer the job to the mechanic's helper, but would have to finalize such a move through the city's union.

The program analyst would replace a consultant who now works about 35 hours per week for the city. The position pays between $33,700 and $42,900 per week, and 25 percent of it would be paid with grant money.

The program analyst would oversee projects funded by grant dollars, including funding to 12 social service agencies

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