GOFFSTOWN — Selectmen voted Monday to begin the renegotiation of the town's contract with Comcast for cable services, which will include using a percentage of cable franchise fees to fund public education and government programming.
Five percent of the cable franchise fees paid by customers are usually put in the general fund to offset taxes. Selectmen voted 4-1 in favor of dedicating 2 percent of the cable franchise fees to support local programming, which includes Goffstown Cable Television and on-demand programming. The other 3 percent would go to the general fund.
In a proposal made to the Board of Selectmen, GTV Chairman Jason Cote recommended that a full-time coordinator be hired to oversee GTV, as well as two production assistants.
Cote proposed an annual budget of $111,900. The current budget is $65,000.
Last year, the 5 percent cable franchise fees totaled $280,000. Taking 2 percent of the cable franchise fees would mean $112,000 could be used to fund public education and government programming.
Proponents of the plan said steady funding of public education and government programming would provide it with some financial stability, and would protect it from large budget cuts.
In tight budget years, Selectman Scott Gross said, cable programming is often one of the first lines to be reduced.
“Year after year, this is such a low priority,” he said.
Town Administrator Sue Desruisseaux said voters are more apt to support budgets of fire, police and public works.
“Public safety items will always take precedence over non-public safety items,” she said.
Gross said that while putting money in the general fund has offset taxes, it should go toward improving the quality of GTV programming.
Selectmen's Chairman David Pierce also supported setting aside some of the franchise fees, and said that if GTV is to be successful “we need to guarantee that they have a sound footing in their revenue stream.”
Selectman Phil D'Avanza voted against using the fees.
“I would prefer to put it through the budget,” he said.
Before a new contract is signed, there are details that need to be finalized, said Desruisseaux, including whether or not the Cable Committee will be structured as a nonprofit organization.
Selectmen will meet with Cote and other towns to see what options are available, and a public hearing will be scheduled for community input.
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