Council gives nod to Comcast tax

The Olympia City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to forward a proposed tax on Comcast cable TV customers to a final vote.

If given the green light at next week’s council meeting, the new ordinance would take effect Jan. 1. The 6 percent tax applies to the cable portion of residents’ Comcast bills. The average customer will be charged about $5 more a month, said Jane Kirkemo, the city’s finance director.

The city can expect an initial annual income of $800,000 from the tax, Kirkemo said. However, collections are expected to decline by $10,000 to $15,000 a year, Kirkemo said.

"We see this as a declining revenue source because more and more people are shifting from cable to other Internet services," said Kirkemo, noting that the city cannot impose the tax on Dish Network or similar providers because of Internet regulations.

The extra revenue would go toward building maintenance for projects in the city’s Capital Facilities Plan, which is a list of projects with an outline for costs, financing and construction timelines.

Councilwoman Jeannine Roe said the tax was a tough vote despite the city’s financial needs.

"I think we pay too much for our cable right now," said Roe, noting that she thinks younger generations may hasten the decline of cable and related tax revenue because of their preference for online entertainment. "Young people just don’t watch their TV anymore."

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said he supported the ordinance because of the city’s budget challenges.

"We have very limited options available to us as a municipal corporation to raise revenue," he said.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council discussed recent public comments regarding the city’s comprehensive plan update. The comprehensive plan outlines the city’s goals and vision for the next 20 years. The plan considers challenges such as projected growth, environment, downtown development, urban density, sea level rise and more.

Tuesday’s discussion covered several topics in the plan, including street connectivity, urban corridors, view protection, waterfront uses and zoning. The council was expected to schedule a work session to further address public comments in these areas.

The council has been working on updating the plan since 2009, and is expected to approve a final version of the plan later this year. To read more about the plan online, visit imagineolympia.com.