Texarkana Wants Fees For Use of Public Right-of-Ways

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The Texarkana, TX City Manager, John Whitson, has been working with a company that wants to place towers inside city limits. This request has, according to Whitson,  required a lot of work on the part of city staff as they move through the review process. But to him, it’s more about “protecting our residents’ interests in public rights-of-way than about any franchise fees or potential revenue that could be earned,” he stated in a letter to the Texarkanna Gazette.

Earlier this year, the FCC requested comment on deployment of these cell towers (WT Docket No. 16-421), and the FCC received public input nationwide, including comments from Texas cities and the Texas Municipal League.

“The city will have to pass along a fee to the cell companies regarding the use of public right-of-way to locate these towers,” Whitson said. “The typical utilities that come to mind, such as electricity or gas, are either franchised if on public right-of-way or are located on private property. However, this new version of a cell tower creates a new category of utility that we’ve yet to encounter.”  The city does not have a fee in place for this type of use.  

“Without some type of fee,” Whitson said “taxpayers would be paying for the process of notifying affected residents within 200 feet, staff hours spent on the review process, and more. We’ll work on resolving this issue quickly to protect our residents from paying for costs that should, in fairness, be borne by the private businesses seeking to make a profit.”

Whitson’s staff has spent time reviewing the proposed location sites of these towers, some up to 120 feet in height while all of their street lights are currently 40 feet. “This will be quite the change to the normal landscape of our community,” Whitson said. “Our preliminary review process has included considerations of public safety, interference with emergency broadcast corridors, future city uses of the rights-of-way such as planned sidewalks or pedestrian/bike pathways, and existing utilities. When one considers these structures being built in residential areas, near playgrounds or schools, and possibly behind your place of worship or favorite park, you begin to understand why we are treating these requests just as we do any other change to the landscape.”

Whitson said they intend to process requests for these towers through our routine planning and zoning process, which will provide (and require) an opportunity for public comment and public hearing before both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council.

“We understand the need for better access to cell service, and certainly see the benefit these cell towers can provide to our residents,” he said. “But our responsibility is to ensure that the interests of the public are protected and that the quality of life here in Texarkana remains intact.”

June 6, 2017       

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