January 19, 2011

Officials may not cut cable position

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- Following a lengthy debate, town officials agreed Monday night to consider restoring a $65,000 training coordinator position to the department’s proposed budget for next year, with the cuts instead coming from additional cable access reserve funds.
Earlier proposals to reduce the cable department’s staff by one and continue incorporating cable access reserve funds into the town budget’s funding sources were met with scrutiny earlier this month.
According to Cable Director Dottie Grover, $40,000 has been moved from the cable department’s special revenue fund into the town’s gen­
eral fund for the past three years in an effort to keep residential taxes down. 

For the coming fiscal year, Town Manager David Caron recommended those transfers continue, in addition to the proposed cut of training coordinator Erin Barry’s position. 
However, following a public hearing that lasted over two hours, Councilor Tom Dolan recommended retaining the training coordinator position, considering Grover plans to retire in the coming year.
“The thought would be to retain talent and not deplete staff, and try and replace Dottie when we have a very competent individual on staff already,” he said. His fellow councilors agreed. 
As a result, $105,000 in cable department fees stand to be placed in the town’s general fund, which would meet the town’s goal of saving $105,000 from the cable budget, while keeping Barry’s position intact. 
Dolan admitted he’s argued against using cable department fees in the past. 
“I’m swallowing really hard this year going in that direction, only considered because of economic climate,” he said. “So I will remain unanimous with fellow councilors, but this is not a direction we should stay in long term.” 
Londonderry’s cable department currently employs a full-time director, assistant director and training coordinator. 
In terms of staffing, Caron compared Londonderry to other towns of similar size, noting that Derry’s cable department employs one 30-hour-per-week station administrator, along with two part-time reporters, while Merrimack employs one fulltime director and two parttime assistants. 
Other towns collect cable access fees, though not all of those fees are used to fund the cable department the way Londonderry does. 
For example, in Hampstead, 4 percent of access fees are collected, though only half of that is used toward cable operations. In Windham, 5 percent of access fees are collected, though none of that is used toward cable operations. During Monday night’s public hearing, Grover said this information could be somewhat misleading. 
“Although some of these towns seem similar to us, they are really dissimilar as far as their cable departments are concerned,” Grover said. “They don’t have the number of volunteers we have. And some of these towns may just have a bulletin board posted, but that isn’t cable operations.” 
Grover noted the training coordinator position has a long history in Londonderry, since volunteer training has been part of the local access center since it opened in 1984. The training coordinator oversees all volunteers, she noted, which is important considering the department relies heavily on its volunteers for its day-to-day operations and programs. 
“Without a training coordinator ... public access would not exist. No training, no volunteers, no need for equipment, nothing to play on the public channels, no political season videos, no 1st Amendment rights of free speech,” Grover told Caron in a written statement. 
Resident Richard Bielinski said he objected to having town officials place cable access fee funds into the town’s general fund, referring to a citizen’s vote during the 2000 Town Meeting as proof of residents’ dictating how franchise fees should be used. 
“If you’re not going to honor resolutions, why do them?” Bielinski asked. 
“Why do you expect to be respected?” he asked he council. 
Council Chairman Paul Di-Marco noted that such resolutions weren’t reflective of the current council’s actions. 
“I don’t have a time machine to go in and correct what has been done in the past,” Di-Marco said. “Our town manager has now brought it to our attention and before the budget is effective July 1, 2011, we need to amend that resolution to go forward and I think it’s the right thing to do, that’s what’s been proposed.” 
Resident Cindy Eaton said, “Seems to me if it was the will of the people at town meetings to have these resolutions and the council went forth with what they are asking for, then town meeting should decide if they no longer want franchise fees to go solely for the purpose of operating cable department.” 
Caron said the Town Council could amend a policy anytime, as there is nothing that legally encumbers the funds to the cable fund. 
The final budget public hearing will take place on Thursday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. in the Moose Hill Council Chambers at Town Hall. 

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