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Pedernales agreement raises questions

Thursday, September 3, 2020 by Jo Clifton

When he saw Item 43 on this week’s City Council agenda, consumer advocate Paul Robbins was concerned that the city might be making a costly mistake. The agreement provides for a 10-year extension of the current franchise agreement between the city and the Pedernales Electric Cooperative. The documentation provided by the Office of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs seemed to indicate that the city would only receive a 2 percent franchise fee from PEC, when all gas utilities pay a 5 percent fee and PEC collects a 4.5 percent fee from customers. Robbins sent an email to the mayor and Council requesting that the item be postponed. He wrote, “We are a city in need of revenue sources during a time of economic stress, so Austin needs to maximize franchise-fee collections.” Rondella Hawkins, who heads up telecommunications and regulatory affairs, did not disagree. After receiving questions about the agreement, Hawkins wrote a memo “clarifying” that the city would indeed be receiving the 4.5 percent fee, not 2 percent as originally stated. She passed that information on to Robbins, who will no longer be requesting a postponement on the matter. However, Robbins told the Austin Monitor that he still wants to tell Council that telecommunications and regulatory affairs should not be able to bypass boards and commissions as they currently do. He suggested that matters such as the PEC agreement should be reviewed by the city’s Electric Utility Commission.

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