Three Summerville Town Council members balked Wednesday at voting to increase franchise fees by 67 percent — or from 3 percent to 5 percent — but the measure passed 4-3 during the town's regular meeting of council.
Dissenting council members cited a bad time to increase utility bills on taxpayers and a lack of planning for money raised by the increase in fees. Proponents of the increase, including the mayor, say the increase to residents will be minimal and it is a way to raise revenue for road building, which will alleviate traffic woes.
Franchise fees are paid by utility companies, like cable and electric companies, for use of town right-of-ways.
In a special meeting Aug. 21, town council introduced the increase and voted 5-1, with Councilman Bob Jackson voting against and Councilman Aaron Brown absent. Wednesday was the final vote.
Increasing the town's franchise fees is projected to bring in an additional $1.2 million and bring Summerville's rate in line with surrounding municipalities, according to town Director of Finance Belinda Harper. The money raised by the increase will be used first for the Sheep Island Road interchange at Interstate 26's milemarker 197, and then for other road projects.
The increase on utility companies might equate to about a dime a day for town residents, according to Mayor Bill Collins.
"The one thing I've heard more over the last 15 months is, 'When are you going to do something about traffic in Summerville?'" Collins said. "If you're not willing to pay a dime a day to alleviate traffic, you're spending more than that sitting and idling in your car. It's a no brainer."
Among the three dissenting votes was Councilman Aaron Brown, who voiced concern about the affect on taxpayers.
"I don't think we need to increase people's light bill for this road (Sheep Island Road)," Brown said. "Building roads is far more the purview of the state or the federal government ... I don't know why the town of Summerville needs to raise taxes."
Fellow dissenter Councilman Bob Jackson wanted a better direction for new revenue.
"It's always difficult to add taxes — that's a hard decision to make," Jackson said. "I would like to se this council create a 5- or 10-year plan ... before I raise taxes ... There's some great opportunities coming up right now in the Oakbrook area and I would like to see those added to the planning and addressed."
Councilman Bill McIntosh also voted against the increase.