City of Tyler to reduce billboard fee after lawsuit

Published: Apr. 5, 2016 at 11:20 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 5, 2016 at 11:39 PM CDT
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(Source: KLTV Staff)
(Source: KLTV Staff)

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - A billboard battle in one East Texas city has one major company raising a red flag.  Lamar, one of the area's largest billboard companies, says the city of Tyler is charging a fee it doesn't even need.
Wednesday, a city commission recommended that fee be cut in half. But not before the city was sued by the company for what it called an unconstitutional fee.

In October 2012, the City of Tyler started the Billboard Inventory and Registration Program which required owners of billboards to submit a list and the location of the sign they own along with an annual fee of $200.

Lamar, which operates about 186 signs that fall under this program, filed a lawsuit against the city in September.

In that lawsuit. Lamar claims that the $200 fee was an "occupational tax" and said that the city was using the fee "to raise revenue, generally to make up for budget deficits, rather than solely to recuperate the reasonable direct costs of the program."

The lawsuit also states that Lamar first contacted the city about this issue in January 2014, and didn't hear from them until August 2015, where they say the city claimed they "had not conducted an analysis of the costs of the program prior to initially setting the fee at $200 per year."

The lawsuit continues to say that the city initially offered to reduce the fee to about $186 which Lamar claimed "remains an unconstitutional occupational tax."

At the Planning and Zoning commission meeting Wednesday afternoon, principal planner Kyle Kingma said they finally settled on an $85 fee.

"We did an extensive review of what it would take to implement the program and what it would cost for staff time, and when we looked at that we found that it would only cost about $85 per sign to adequately administer the program," Kingma said.

"It's going towards the annual review of all the signs, also the staff time associated with working on what's required with TxDOT what we have to send them every year," he added.

Kingma said that was something both the city and Lamar agreed on.

"We worked with them in good faith on finding something that's reasonable, and so we did the study and we came to terms on a number that works both for the city and the company," Kingma explained.

In the lawsuit, Lamar also claimed that before the city started the new program, they already had to give them information on each sign when they applied for permits.

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