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Comcast Tax Settlement 

The cable company will pay an estimated $155 million. Gov. Brown urges local governments to use the money for PERS

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After the recent Comcast property tax settlement, Gov. Kate Brown has called on local governments to use their portion of the money to pay down their obligations to the Public Employees Retirement System.

The payments—an estimated $155 million—are the result of a settlement the Governor's office facilitated between the cable company and the state, ending a long-running lawsuit over property taxes, according to a press release by the Governor's office. The agreement also guarantees Comcast will pay higher taxes going forward than it would have under the existing "gigabit" exemption.

With a gigabit exemption, qualifying companies receive an exemption from central tax assessment, but they still pay regular taxes on their real property, according to a story on Oregonlive. In other words, specified projects would have property tax exemptions on their equipment if they met a certain scale. Among other things to qualify, the company must offer internet speeds at 1 gigabit per second or above, and the service must offer the same speeds for downloads and uploads. And the service must be available to "50 percent or more of the customer base in the service territory in which the communication infrastructure is constructed or installed."

The City of Bend does not fall into the Comcast settlement because the cable company doesn't own property in the area. According to Cam Sparks, the City of Bend's budget and financial planning manager, the City's pension obligation that will be reported on June 30 is $53,855,235. Additionally, the City's budgeted PERS contribution for fiscal year 2018-19 is approximately $12.4 million.

"In the 2018 legislative session, I successfully passed legislation that set up an Employer Incentive Fund to provide matching funds when local jurisdictions dedicate funds to pay down their PERS liabilities," Gov. Brown said in a statement. "We were able to secure $25 million for this matching fund, and we will work to secure more funds in the next legislative session."

Comcast has been disputing its Oregon property tax value since 2009, and likely would have continued for many more years because of complex legal issues under dispute, the Oregonlive story said. Under the settlement, Comcast acceded to the central assessment tax methodology and agreed to withdraw its gigabit exemption application.

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