County updated on road projects

by Nicole Stokes

After months of being closed to through traffic, work on Burt Jordan Road is finally nearing completion.

The Franklin County Board of Supervisors heard from county engineer Mike McKenzie during the panel’s Monday, Nov. 7 business meeting that the road was being paved and would be finished and opened to traffic by late Monday afternoon or early Tuesday morning.

McKenzie also provided a laundry list of updates on various road projects taking place throughout the county.

“They started striping on the reseal job, but they couldn’t stripe it all for a couple of reasons,” he said.

“One (reason) was T.L. Wallace’s sweeper broke down and they didn’t tell anybody. The stripers packed up and left, and what those guys told my guys is that it might be a month or more before they come back (to finish striping).

“On Providence Road, they’re pouring the box (culvert) still. On Martin Bonds Road, they’re finishing the box. The little bridge up on Bonus Road we’re going to replace it with a 72-inch pipe and they were having trouble getting a pipe. I don’t really know when they’re going to get that.”

In other action during the session, Franklin County Tax Assessor-Collector Talina King Matthews previously informed the board that major cellular telephone companies are reportedly taking advantage of broadband tax exemption laws and underreporting their costs and materials for communications towers.

The subject came up again during Monday’s meeting.

“The cellphone industry grew, but the ability to tax it did not,” Matthews said.

“When you look at how it’s transformed, (assessors) were never even taught how to assess a tower. Number one — we can’t go 300 feet in the air. Also, no one is auditing what (the cellphone companies) turn over to tax assessors. If nobody’s going to check, they’re going to do whatever they want.

“Looking at the numbers, it is highway robbery on our side. When I first got here and I saw the bills that was the first thing I saw. These companies are not the top taxpayers, and they’re making billions.

“Their tax bills compared to what taxpayers pay … there is no comparison, and the percentage rate for them is higher. If I showed you the bills and the amount we get from them, and the amount we get from the top 10, it would blow your mind.”

Walt Woodard of Cell Tower Solutions, a company that assesses towers for taxation purposes, addressed the board concerning the issue.

“Cell Tower Solutions was founded in 2009 with the sole focus on towers and evaluating and inventorying them for county assessors,” Woodard explained.

“The whole premise is that these companies know that the counties and states really don’t have knowledge of what’s out there. This is very technical and you would have to really be able to dissect that tower, and that’s what we do.

“I have an engineer who has 30 years of experience in the industry in everything from designing the cell sites (while) working for AT&T, he also oversaw up to a billion dollar project for Atlanta implemented for AT&T. And then he jumped to the equipment side and worked for the equipment companies.

“So, essentially, what we do is reverse engineer the process. We go out and take photos, do measurements, and then on a spreadsheet he takes off each part and evaluates what the cost is based on the wholesale prices that are available for that component.

“That’s the information that we (would) give to Talina. In addition, we help get it slotted in the correct year life, which is important, and then we help with the depreciation.”

Woodard went on to explain how the companies are allegedly using the broadband exemption to their advantage.

“A bill was passed in 2003 to give the fixed broadband industry, which was cable and fiber, an exemption to expand into rural Mississippi. It was another four years before cell phones were actually capable of doing internet. Somewhere along the way, without them asking or getting permission or clarification, the industry decided to start taking off a big chunk of their equipment for broadband for the cellphones.

“We have an appeal right now in Jasper (County). They came and they provided no information and all of them said, universally, ‘We know that this is going to get changed in the Legislature, but we believe that we had the right to take it.’

“These companies are way underreporting (their equipment). One (way they do this) is the companies that are filing (taxes) are not the corporation. So, the major corporations, in general, have one set of books, and then many of these companies have a second set of books that they file with the counties. That allows them to stay in compliance with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the IRS, and then have a second set of books that they do this with.”

According to Woodard, Cell Tower Solutions is the only company in the United States which assesses cellphone towers for counties.

The company has done work for Jasper County, Mississippi, Worth and Twiggs counties in Georgia and Fairbanks Borough in Alaska.

Woodard gave the board a copy of the company’s standard contract to look over in the event local officials would like to retain their services.

The contract has a fixed rate of $49,000, with the price able to go lower, but not higher.

He also said that, if the board did sign a contract with them, the county would not receive a bill until after they found out how much money would come in from the cell towers and the bill would be divided up over the term of the contract.

The contract also guarantees, in writing, the county will make revenue.

No action was taken in this matter, with board attorney Bill Halford saying he would look at the document.

Also at the meeting, supervisors addressed the following business:

• Opened bids for repairs on an embankment on Bedford Tillman Road.

Three bids were received — Midway Construction for $20,950, Hope Enterprises for $26,675 and Alan Coleman Construction LLC for $29,675.

The board accepted the low bid from Midway Construction.

• Approved paying $934.38 to Walter Beesley for collecting $3,737.50 in Justice Court fines for October.

• Gave approval for Chancery Clerk Jill Jordan Gilbert to fill out an application for an Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund grant.

If received, that grant would be used to purchase $4,680 in ambulance-related equipment.

• Accepted as presented the aged analysis for the Circuit Clerk’s office through Sept. 30.

• Approved payments for legal advertising to The Franklin Advocate in the amounts of $16.68, $201.84 and $444.

• Approved payment of $8,300 to Plan B General Services for mowing grass and cutting limbs along 22 miles of Veto, Bill Lofton, Burt Jordan and Quentin roads.

This fee included a $500 surcharge for fuel.

• Gave approval to pay $450 to the National Association of Counties for 2023 membership dues.

• Approved paying $4,774.43 to Empire Truck Sales LLC for repairs done to a Solid Waste Department truck.

The Franklin County Board of Supervisors will hold its next regular business meeting at 9 a.m., Monday, Nov. 21.