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Spokane Valley council still on the air

Thu., June 10, 2010

Agreement with Comcast may be reopened

A unanimous yes vote from the Spokane Valley City Council Tuesday will allow the rebroadcasting of council meetings on Comcast Channel 14 to continue until the end of July. The council will then re-evaluate the cost of the broadcasting after a budget retreat.

Up until now the Spokane Valley Business Association has been paying $1,300 a month to broadcast the meetings. Before adding his yes vote, Councilman Bill Gothmann said he had a disclosure to make. “Over the last six months I have given $3,000 to this effort,” he said. Gothmann also said he has spent an additional $240 on DVDs so copies of each meeting could be made and distributed for people to watch.

The money to pay for the six weeks of broadcasting will come from the city’s anticipated year end carryover, said Mike Jackson, acting city manager. “We have the funds available in the general fund,” he said.

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she was in favor of the short-term contract, but would also like to consider broadcasting over the Internet and getting competitive bids to provide the taping and editing services. “I would like to look at all the available options at our retreat,” she said.

In a related discussion, Cary Driskell, assistant city attorney, said the idea of removing a 35-cent monthly fee collected from customers from the franchise agreement with Comcast is not as simple as it first appeared. The fee, called PEG funding, is written into the contract and would provide money for the city to purchase broadcasting equipment and support public education channels. “It was always a contemplation that the PEG funding would be in there,” he said.

If the council votes to reopen the contract, which was just finalized after five years of negotiation, there is nothing to stop Comcast from opening up other areas of the contract for renegotiation, Driskell said. The city made the terms in the contract, including the PEG fee, part of its municipal code so any other cable provider would have to meet the same terms as Comcast. “It mirrors the franchise language,” he said. “Keep in mind that we will, in the near future, have to amend the city code.”

Also, a portion of the franchise agreement that requires the city to enter into contracts with each of the entities that provides content for the education channels provided by Comcast, including the community colleges, Spokane Public Schools and local universities. The city does not currently have any contracts with those groups and if the monthly fee is not collected there would be no contracts. That means Comcast could black out the education channels, which some people use to take college classes for credit. “That could have a pretty significant impact on those who do utilize those services,” Driskell said.

The council is scheduled to consider a motion to reopen the agreement with Comcast to take out the PEG fee at its next meeting.

In other business, the council approved several motions and advanced two ordinances to a second reading, with Council members Rose Dempsey and Bob McCaslin absent. They approved spending $10,000 on a collaborative planning agreement with Spokane County and advanced an ordinance to vacate a section of 16th Avenue near Carnahan Road. An ordinance with a series of text amendments was also advanced. The amendments would address developers’ responsibilities, incorporate the new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood plain map and provide a reasonable use exception for properties impacted by critical areas.

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