Cell companies negotiating to pay for King Co. staff

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by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @jlangelerKING5

KING5.com

Posted on September 22, 2013 at 6:39 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 23 at 5:55 AM

SEATTLE -- Major cell phone companies have begun negotiating with King County on a plan to pay for extra staff.  Twenty-percent of the planning department's workload comes from processing permits on cell phone towers, and companies expect the demand to increase.

Any modification to an existing cell phone tower, or any construction of a new one, must go through the permitting process.

More than 100 permit applications were filed with King County last year for cell tower modifications, and roughly 60 have been processed in 2013, staff said Sunday.

"In speaking with the industry, they've told us we could expect double or triple that in the coming year," explained Ty Peterson from county Department of Permitting and Environmental Review. "They come in on a semi-weekly basis."

Many other municipalities are paid by cell phone providers for similar, part-time staffing needs to handle the high permit workload, Peterson said.  This is the first time King County has been approached.

There are many instances when contractors will also hire part-time staff on behalf of the county to cope with increased needs.  The department is funded by its own fees, but often that money does not keep up with immediate backlogs, Peterson added.

"For us, we're trying to meet the demand of customers," said Bob Bass from AT&T of Washington, "For the county, they're trying to provide the level of service."

Negotations with the cell phone companies are still ongoing, so it is unclear how much money would be spent on added staff.  Peterson said this would not be a battle of cash by the providers to pay for employees, adding the process would be transparent for the public.

"We treat the carriers equally," Peterson said, "Nobody's going to get favoritism.  That's how the funding gets regulated."

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