Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Milton passes cell phone tower ordinance.

By Jonathan Copsey; Appen Newspapers

MILTON - After months of revisions, Milton finally has its telecommunications ordinance.

The city declared a moratorium on new cell towers after they discovered the previous ordinance allowed, among other things, cell towers to be placed very close to residential areas and city fees that did not cover the costs of the application process. In the intervening months since the moratorium, the city has worked with the telecom industry to craft a final document.

Several new aspects were added to the ordinance, including requiring separate licenses for each cell tower in the city to be renewed on an annual basis, as well as requiring inspections from a third party engineer to guarantee the safety of the towers – the cost of which must be footed by the industry.

These in particular had the telecom industry understandably upset.

Dennis Boyden, a regional director for AT&T, said that he did not see the need for a third party engineer to inspect the sites, saying the companies can and should do it themselves.

"Don't forget that we're professionals too," he said, pointing out that the companies hire their own professionals the inspect their sites. After all, a broken tower is of no use to anyone.

Of second concern was the prospect of an annual licensing fee for each and every tower. With dozens of towers scattered around the city, such a fee can quickly add up to serious money. The licenses are used by the city to keep track of what carriers are on what towers, for regulation and tax purposes.

"We are required to maintain a license every year from the FCC," explained Verizon attorney Jennifer Blackburn in opposition to the fees.

She suggested an affidavit from the tower owner could be given instead.

"There are a lot of industries with annual fees," said City Attorney Ken Jarrard, rebuffing the complaints.

Milton prides itself on running a tight ship, so for much of its inspection work it hires third parties, having no in-house professionals to do such work. Because an outside company has to be hired, there is a fee that goes along with it. The annual fee charged for the towers would cover that hiring cost.

The exact cost of the fee has yet to be determined.

"We feel like we have a good ordinance," concluded Jarrard.

"I think this seems to be a fair approach," said Council member Julie Zahner-Bailey, saying the ordinance straddles the middle of what the industry wanted and what the city needed. Mayor pro-tem Burt Hewitt agreed. "We appreciate the input the industry's given us," he said. "We've got a better document because of that input and we look forward to continuing to work together."

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