March 23, 2011

Council debates use of cable fees

Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- Following a lengthy discussion at Monday night’s Town Council meeting, councilors opted to table a decision on whether to reallocate additional cable franchise fees to the town’s general fund.
A public hearing on the topic will now be scheduled sometime in June, once
 town officials have a better grasp of pending state budgetary changes.

On March 21, councilors suggested having 1.5 percent of the 5 percent cable franchise fees deposited into the town’s general fund on July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
Councilor John Farrell further suggested raising that amount to
 2.5 percent, or half of the town’s cable franchise fees.
“We already know we’re not going to be able to reduce expenses dramatically, and we’d like to increase our revenue,” Farrell said. “If we move to 2.5 
percent, that would give us another $170,000 in our fund that we’d have available in case something happens with the state budget.”
Earlier this month, town officials expressed frustration over the pending state budget and what it could mean for Londonderry.
On Feb. 15, Gov. John Lynch
 revealed his proposed new $10.7 billion budget plan, which calls for millions of dollars in cuts, including a reduction in state reimbursements for teacher, police and firefighter retirements from 35 percent to zero.
Though its still too early to tell, the town could be forced to come up with an additional $468,000 to cover those retirement contributions next year, Caron said, though town officials won’t know for sure until May or June, when the final outcome of the state budget is revealed.
As it stands now, the town is already tapping into cable access reserve funds to bolster the general fund.
During budget workshops held earlier this winter, town officials ultimately agreed to spare cutting the cable department’s training coordinator position, held by Erin Barry, by dipping into the cable access reserves instead.
A total of $105,000 in cable department fees will be placed in the town’s general fund this coming fiscal year, meeting the town’s goal of saving $105,000 from the cable budget, while keeping Barry’s position intact.
The additional percentage suggested by the council would bring that number up to $275,000.
According to Cable Director Dottie Grover, $40,000 has already been moved from the cable department’s special revenue fund into the town’s general fund for the past three years to keep residential taxes down.
While other towns collect cable access fees, 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.
Caron said the council could amend a policy anytime, as there is nothing that legally encumbers the fees to the cable fund.
Councilor Tom Dolan said:
 “I’d certainly like to hear more from the public because we’ve talked about taking pieces of the cable fund, but I don’t think we’ve had a comprehensive discussion. This is something that almost begs for a public hearing. We’ve heard very limited
 testimony that the general public is against this, but I’d like to hear some more.”
Dolan then made a motion to table the topic until June when the state budget is finalized, and the council unanimously agreed.

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