Weatherford Democrat

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September 12, 2012

Weatherford council talks negotiations with Charter

WEATHERFORD — Weatherford city council members authorized staff to move forward in negotiations with Charter Communications concerning monies owed in franchise fees and interest during Tuesday night’s council meeting.

The city and Charter had been in negotiations since December 2011 concerning the monies owed the city in underpaid franchise fees over the last few years. Weatherford officials have been working with Greg Fender of Local Government Services, a company which has many years experience in dealing with franchise fee issues, over the last several months to reach a resolution of the issue.

The city had been trying to recover about $54,000 in unpaid fees from November 2007 to October 2011. Companies are required to pay a franchise fee of 5 percent for use of a city’s right-of-way to lay cable and other wiring needed to provide the service.

According to Fender, those fees are to be paid quarterly and are due 45 days after the close of the previous quarter. The issue started with a “small” underpayment of $6,715.98. Charter had continually asked for more and more information and had repeatedly refused to acknowledge city requests for payment in writing.

“Charter was asking for digital maps and all addresses within the city,” Fender said. “They believed that some of the addresses had been miscoded and those fees were actually being paid to another municipality.”

Fender said the number of addresses within the city was being disputed by Charter. More than 300 addresses were in contention. Finally, after many months of work, a check for $59,644.38 was received by the city Monday.

The only point of contention left is whether Charter should be paying interest on the franchise fees. Fender said the city has been harmed by the incorrect coding and should go after Charter for the interest, which is thought to be in the area of $35,000.

“Charter is arguing there is nothing in the law saying they must pay interest on late payments or anything like that,” Fender said. “I’m not an attorney, but I don’t think it says anywhere in the Code that no sort of penalty can be assessed. If that was the case, there would be nothing to keep entities from paying when they wanted or if they wanted to.”

According to the Texas Finance Code, the legal interest rate that can be charged is 6 percent. He said other cities he has represented, including Gonzales and Cuero, have received interest payments from cable companies like Time Warner or Charter for late payments. Charter was invited to Tuesday night’s meeting to explain their position, Fender said, but chose not to attend on the advice of its attorneys.

“I’m urging the city to not walk away from this at this time,” Fender said.

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