JASPER, Tenn. — City leaders in Jasper are preparing to join their counterparts in nearby Kimball, Tenn., in trying to recoup years of overdue franchise fees from one local cable company.
At the March meeting of the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Mayor Paul Evans said Blue Bridge Media in South Pittsburg, Tenn., formally known as Trinity Communications, which offers local cable, phone and internet services in Marion County, hasn't paid a franchise fee "in probably the last 10 years."
Evans said he spoke with Kimball Mayor Rex Pesnell about that town's difficulties in getting the fees from the company after a recent article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Kimball leaders are considering filing a lawsuit against Blue Bridge Media, he said, but that option hasn't come to a vote by the Kimball Board of Mayor and Aldermen yet.
Kimball did file a formal complaint against the company with the Tennessee Regulatory Authority recently alleging Blue Bridge Media owes approximately $8,000 in fees since 2013.
Jasper officials did not say how much they believe that town is owed.
City Attorney Mark Raines said the franchise fee varies from year to year, depending on a company's customer base.
He said he doesn't know how many customers Blue Bridge Media has currently.
"When they first came in, they had quite a few," Raines said. "Most of the input that I've heard back, I don't think they have very many now."
The state regulates franchise fees and a company's ability to operate in a municipality, but the fees are supposed to be paid directly to a municipality each year.
Even though the company went through bankruptcy years ago, Raines said no company can claim bankruptcy against a tax.
"This [the money owed] is considered a tax," he said. "I don't know if there's anything there to get, quite honestly."
Evans said he had met with local representatives of the company several times in the past about the problem.
"They wanted to work out a payment plan," he said. "We did — never got the first payment."
The company also owes the town back taxes on property, which Evans said haven't been paid since he's been mayor.
He recommended that if Kimball follows through with a lawsuit, Jasper should join it.
The board voted unanimously to do so.
"They know they owe the money," Evans said. "This could put them on notice of what our intentions are."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.