Jenkins residents may see an increase in property taxes and cable television rates in coming months. Mayor Charles Dixon asked the council to consider the possibility of a small increase in property taxes at the Jenkins City Council’s August meeting and James Campbell of Intermountain Cable used the possibility of rate hikes as a bargaining chip in his request to be allowed to discontinue the Intermountain Cable office in Jenkins. The council also voted to publish the names of residents who have delinquent city taxes and to add the fee for publication to the delinquent taxes.
Mayor Dixon asked the council to consider the tax hikes as a way to increase city revenues, which he said were badly in need of an increase. Dixon said the present rate of 45 cents per $100 of real property has not been raised since 2004. He said some additional revenues have come in from increases in occupational taxes and enhanced efforts to collect them, as well as efforts to collect delinquent taxes and to enforce the city’s city sticker ordinance, but added that the city still needs additional money.
The mayor recommended either levying a four percent tax hike or adding two percent now and an additional two percent in the coming year. City Clerk Sherry Puckett told the council it has some time to deliberate on the matter, but changes in tax rates must be sent to the state by November 3.
Council member Carol Anne Litts asked Dixon if he had done a study to see how much either rate would raise for the city. Dixon replied that he hadn’t, but he did know that the city needs additional revenue. Councilman Chuck Anderson estimated that the two percent rate increase would add about $10 per year in taxes to a homeowner whose property is valued at $60,000. Several council members said that some politically connected residents of Jenkins can get their property evaluation lowered by simply calling Whitesburg, and that these are the same people who license their vehicles in Tennessee and use other methods to avoid paying the same taxes their neighbors pay.
Councilman Todd De- Priest asked Dixon for a study to see how much the city needs and how much a tax increase would help. De- Priest asked that the study be conducted with the goal of eliminating the need to purchase city stickers. Councilman Rick Damron added that he would support a tax hike only if it meant salary increases for city employees. Rebecca Terrill-Amburgey said nobody wants to raise taxes, particularly in an election year, but said the rates will eventually have to be raised.
The question of Intermountain’s office came early in the meeting, with James Campbell of Intermountain Cable telling the council it just wasn’t fair that the cable company had to maintain an office that was only busy a few days each month, although the franchise agreement under which Intermountain operates states that the company must maintain an office in the city. The agreement does not expire until 2012. Campbell said the office stays busy for the first 10 days of the month, but after that will only see a few customers each day.
Campbell said it costs the company approximately $50,000 per year to maintain the office and the company has been unable to find a local person to staff it, requiring it to have someone from its home office at Harold come to Jenkins to work. He also said the company does not maintain business offices at any of its other franchise locations, although he later admitted it did have several, including one in Pikeville. He said if the Jenkins rates were raised to accommodate the costs of maintaining the office, it would raise basic rates by $12 per month.
“No other franchise requires us to maintain an office,” said Campbell. “It doesn’t make economic sense.”
Council members made several suggestions to help staff the office and Jenkins resident G.C. Kincer, who has picked up the paperwork necessary to run for mayor, told Campbell he has an unoccupied office space he would be happy to rent. However, Campbell was steadfast in his desire to do away with the office.
“I don’t want to have the office,” said Campbell. “I would I like to find a local business to accept payments.”
Campbell said Intermountain Cable wants its customers to pay their bills but was not really interested in maintaining an office. He laid out three choices that would keep the company happy. The first is to close the office and find a local business to accept payments, the second is to allow the company to keep the office open regular hours the first 10 days of the month when people are paying their bills and either close it or reduce hours for the rest of the month, and the third is for the city to provide the company with a rent-free office. He said if Intermountain was allowed to do away with the office, it might be able to contribute more in charitable donations in Jenkins.
Mayor Dixon said the city does not have room in City Hall for additional office space, saying his office was in a closet now. He also said he would not ask already overworked city employees to take over Intermountain’s responsibility of receiving payments and handling service calls. City Clerk Puckett said she already gets a number of calls each week complaining about cable service. Rebecca Terrill- Amburgey told Campbell that while she sympathizes with his plight, she feels the city’s aging population feels more comfortable with having a place they can go and pay their bills and lodge service requests in person.
“I took up for you before,” said Terrill-Amburgey. “But no one can get through (by telephone) to Harold. I tried to get through by phone for three weeks. I did it just to see if I could, but I never spoke with a single person. You have an 800 number, but nobody answers it.”
Campbell said the company has several customer service representatives to answer the approximately 20,000 calls it receives, and suggested there might have been a problem with the telephones. He said he would provide his own phone number, “if you think that’s a problem.”
“I know that’s a problem,” said Terrill-Amburgey. “I don’t think it, I know it. I didn’t have a (service) problem. I just wanted to see if they would answer.”
“We want to improve customer service, if that is an issue,” said Campbell.
“It is an issue,” said Terrill Amburgey.
Councilman DePriest asked Campbell how long it usually takes to have new service installed and was told that it usually was installed within 10 days. However, DePriest said he had spoken with a person who has waited a considerably longer period of time and still doesn’t have service and Campbell said it sometimes takes two to four weeks. Linda K. Ain, a Lexington attorney who represents municipalities in communications and television franchises, told Campbell that Intermountain is in violation of its franchise agreement.
“That’s in total violation of the franchise,” said Ain. “If installation isn’t in a week, it’s in violation. By your own admission, you are backed up to two to four weeks.”
Ain also told Campbell that the franchise agreement clearly states that Intermountain will maintain an office in Jenkins and said there were several other inaccuracies in Campbell’s account. Ain said the company has two other offices, one in Pikeville, and that its failure to answer its phones could also be in violation of the franchise agreement.
“We want to close the office,” said Campbell. “Why are you making us keep the office open? I don’t want to raise rates in the City of Jenkins, but we can under the terms of the franchise.”
“You have a service delivery problem,” said City Attorney Randall Tackett. “That’s all the city is interested in. We are interested in you improving your service, not in you making donations. All you have done is tell your side of the story.”
“I’m saying there is continual pressure to raise rates,” said Campbell. “Help me to cut costs.”
“A franchise is a contract,” said Rick Damron. “You signed it. As far as not being favorable, you agreed to it.”
“City Hall gets five to seven calls a week complaining about service,” said Todd DePriest. “Come back in a month and tell us what you will do about service. You’re not willing to find somebody to keep us from having to answer your calls. Tell us how you will work it out and we might get more excited about helping you.”
“Bring back a solution,” said Terrill-Amburgey. “Our people need a human being to talk to. Retirement age people need that.”
“And someone who speaks English,” added Damron.
“People will feel like when the office is gone, they will have no alternative for service,” said Carol Anne Litts. “When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Mayor Dixon said the council would give Campbell a month to come back and report on solutions to the numerous problems revealed during the conversation. Linda Ain told council members a conference on cable-related issues would be held in Lexington at the end of the month and invited them to participate.
In other council business:
• Police Chief Adam Swindall reported that Jenkins officers answered 132 complaints, including nine motor vehicle collisions and two for domestic violence. They made 12 arrests, five on warrants, and issued 27 citations and seven warnings. Swindall said thefts have risen with the poor economy and asked citizens to be aware of this and to report suspicious activity to 832-4411 or to call 911. Swindall said his officers continue to issue citations for no occupational license and nuisance violations and said the Letcher County District Court has found that city ordinances are the law and will be enforced as written.
• Water losses and production are both down for July. The city produced 12,093,000 gallons, and sold 4,538,000 gallons for a diff erence of 7,555,000 or a potential loss rate of 62 percent. Of that amount, 5,345,000 gallons are accounted for, including 2,124,000 gallons in leaks, 1,000,000 gallons in fire hydrant flushing, and 1,502,000 gallons used at the Burdine Wastewater Plant. Unaccounted for losses stood at 2,210,000 gallons, or 18 percent.
• Paul Nesbitt of Nesbitt Engineering, who is working with the city on water and sewer projects, told the council that Phase I of the Waterline Replacement Project is ready to go and a meeting of Nesbitt Engineering, the contractors, and the city will be held on Tuesday, August 3, with a groundbreaking celebration to be held August 19. Nesbitt said Phase II is fully funded and should begin as Phase I winds down. Nesbitt added that improvements in the Burdine Wastewater Treatment Plant are almost complete and within another month, the plant should be able to use “gray water” (water that has been treated to remove sewage) to clean tanks and for other things that treated water is now being used. Rick Damron estimated this will save the city about $10,000 per month “on paper.”
• Chuck Anderson of the Homecoming Festival Committee told the council that everything is in place for the August 26-28 festival. Anderson said the committee has $11,136.10 in its bank account and that most bills are paid. He said all entertainment has been booked and that several local bands will play as well. Friday, August 27, from 1 until 3 p.m. will be “Kiddy Fun Time,” when school children will be allowed to ride all rides free.
• The council voted 4-1 to pass Ordinance 220, which requires all parking in Number Two Bottom be done on the north side of the street. Todd DePriest cast the lone no vote.