published Friday, June 15th, 2012

Kimball board fficials want answers about missing fees

KIMBALL, Tenn. -- When the Kimball Board of Mayor and Aldermen were working at a recent budget workshop, they discovered that one local company didn't seem to be paying its required franchise fees.

After some research, Kimball Mayor David Jackson said Trinity Communications in Jasper, Tenn., which offers local cable, phone and internet service in Marion County, had only paid the city once since July 2008.

A payment of $498.53 was received in April 2011, but officials said no paperwork accompanied the payment, so there was no way to know how Trinity calculated what was owed.

When other companies send in their franchise fees, officials said a report breaking down the payment numbers is always included.

Jackson said to get that one payment last April, he had spoken with someone who previously worked with Trinity who, in turn, spoke with management about the issue.

"He's basically the one that got us that $498 last year," he said.

Kimball Attorney Billy Gouger said a company's franchise fee is based on the number of customers a company has within a municipality.

"There's no way to know what the payment should be without knowing how many customers they have," Jackson said.

Jasper Mayor Billy Simpson said his town is in a similar situation with Trinity.

He said he recalled only one franchise fee payment from Trinity around the same time Kimball got one and for roughly the same amount.

Just like Kimball, Simpson said there was no documentation with that one-time payment, just a check made out to Jasper.

Through his secretary, Trinity General Manager Jim Hunter said he had no comment on the matter.

South Pittsburg Mayor Mike Killian said Trinity's franchise fee is waived in that city as a part of an agreement to provide free internet access for its residents through the company.

Besides waiving the franchise fee, South Pittsburg pays Trinity about $2,000 per month since 2005 for the internet service through a subsidy with the US Department Housing and Urban Development, he said.

Officials said Charter Communications in Jasper, which is the other local cable, phone and internet provider, pays about $6,000 per year to Kimball and Jasper and roughly the same amount to South Pittsburg each year.

Charter is up to date with all of its franchise fee payments in each municipality, officials said.

Kimball officials said they did not go back beyond 2008 to see if Trinity had paid franchise fees to the town before that.

Last week, Kimball's board instructed Gouger to contact Trinity and investigate the matter.

"With the one payment we've got here, we don't even know what that's for," Kimball Alderman Johnny Sisk said. "I think we ought to check and see what they owe and get things up to date with us."

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