Council approves new TV franchise, downtown study, fire levy

MARYSVILLE Just before closing up shop for the summer July 28, City Council approved a new cable TV franchise agreement with Verizon, Inc.

For the first time, local residents will have an option to current cable TV franchise holder, Comcast.

A Verizon vice-president for franchise operations, Larry Manion previously told council members his company has been working aggressively at building a new fiber optic network throughout the area. Manion added his company potentially could begin offering cable TV service Sept. 1.

The franchise agreement approved by City Council applies only to incorporated Marysville. But Manion said Verizon is working with Snohomish County on a similar contract to offer cable TV service in unincorporated areas surrounding the city.

Verizon has dubbed its cable TV offering FiOS TV. In a press release, Verizon spokesman Jon Davies said Marysville is only one of only a handful of communities to reach agreement with Verizon on cable TV.

Local legislators in Kenmore approved an agreement the same evening as their Marysville counterparts. The cities of Lynnwood and Everett already had previously granted franchises to Verizon.

According to information provided by Verizon, the agreement with Marysville will allow the company to offer cable TV service to up to 9,730 local households. Verizon already offers cable TV service in parts of numerous other states, including Oregon and California.

While he publicly offered no details on pricing, Manion said federal law dictates his company offers services similar to those of the existing franchise holder. Verizon will host the same community access and municipal channels carried by Comcast.

Overall, Manion said he expected his company initially would offer 400 channels, including, by the end of the year, about 150 high definition channels.

Marysville Community Information Officer Doug Buell handled most of the negotiations with Verizon. He said the city has been working with the company since roughly April.

Besides providing local access channels and similar services offered by Comcast, Buell said the new agreement holds Verizon to the same service standards the city dictated to Comcast.

Those standards address such issues as wait times for customers calling the company, dependability of in-home service calls and other similar concerns.

According to Buell, any new Verizon customers still would have to pay a 75 cent monthly fee charged by Comcast, a fee that goes to support the city's so-called I-Net system that electronically links together various municipal buildings.

Besides granting the cable franchise agreement, council also approved a few other issues before recessing until September.

n As expected, council gave its OK to two studies that might lead to creation of a consolidated civic complex somewhere in the downtown area.

Budgeted at no more than $120,000, the two studies will focus on finding a worthy location for a possible complex as well the feasibility of the development.

Speaking to City Council on July 21, Chief Administrative Officer Mary Swenson emphasized what she feels is the need for the new complex and also how that complex could become part of the city's overall plan for revamping downtown Marysville. Swenson noted local officials have been discussing the possibility of a centralized city complex for some time.

"We're not just building this because we want to build a facility," she said.

City facilities currently are spread out amongst several buildings on State Avenue, Grove Street and Columbia Avenue. Swenson said the situation leads to costly duplication of services and predicted those costs only will increase as the city grows.

In the past, officials also have talked about how a civic complex could prove to be an anchor for future private development downtown. Makers Inc., of Seattle, one of the two consultants hired July 28, already is working on a yearlong, $275,000 study of downtown.

Community Development Director Gloria Hirashima has said the new study will look at numerous possible locations for a civic center.

"What we're going to do is kind of look broadly at the downtown," she said.

The studies almost certainly will include city-owned properties around Comeford Park and on Columbia, the current location of the city public works building.

n Mayor Dennis Kendall called placing a levy for the Marysville Fire District on the ballot of the November general election a sort of back-up plan.

Along with Fire District 12, the Marysville Fire District is floating a levy on the Aug. 19 primary ballot to benefit local EMS operations. If that levy should fail, state rules required City Council to act now in order to place the issue back in front of voters during the general election.

Marysville Fire District Captain Jeff Cole is co-chairing the appropriately named "EMS-Yes" levy campaign. He said the issue now before voters, as well as the potential issue in November, would return local EMS tax collections to the full amount voters approved when they last passed an EMS levy in 2004. At that time, voters said OK to chipping in 50 cents per $1,000 in property value.

Thanks to state rules, Cole and others have said the two fire districts currently are collecting 34 cents and 38 cents per $1,000 in property valuation.

Cole added that for an average home valued at $300,000, returning either levy to its original 50 cents per $1,000 in property value would cost homeowners $48 per year above what is being collected now.

According to Marysville Fire District Chief Greg Corn, levy passage would raise about $724,000 over current collections. The new collection rates would take effect in 2009.

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