City OKs cable TV fee

GLADSTONE — The Gladstone City Commission voted Monday to renew a fee for cable television subscribers within the city and discussed ways to make videos of city commission meetings available to residents without the creation of an expensive dedicated cable channel.

By federal and state law, video service providers are required to enter into franchise agreements with municipalities where cable television service is available. These agreements allow cable companies to use city-owned right of ways for running cable or installing other equipment necessary to provide service to customers.

Historically, these agreements were negotiated directly between municipalities and service providers, but in 2006 the Michigan Legislature passed the Uniform Video Services Local Franchise Act, which standardized the agreements across the state. Under the act, cities are allowed to charge up to 5 percent of the gross revenue cable providers collect from their resident television subscribers.

When communities charge this fee, the fee is collected by cable companies from television subscribers and then passed on to cities directly. Some cities collect the full 5 percent allowed by state law, while others collect no fee at all.

These are long-term contracts, spanning a decade at a time, and once a fee structure is chosen, cable companies are hesitant to make changes unless those changes would result in a savings for subscribers.

Gladstone’s last agreement, which charged Charter the full 5 percent fee, ended earlier this year. Annually, the city collected about $85,000 for the general fund through this fee, but the actual amount collected by the city has been steadily decreasing as more and more residents are opting to cut the cord.

“Is it something that the city will be getting 10 years from now? They may, but as we develop budgets in the future, kind of start to look at, ‘is this going to be here forever?'” said new City Manager Darcy Long, who participated fully in the meeting for the first time Monday.

Some residents have compared the fee to a tax, but commissioners and city staff were quick to point out the fee is entirely optional, as residents aren’t required to have cable television.

“It is a choice though, too, because there are other alternatives. I mean you can get your TV other places,” said Commissioner Joe Thompson.

The commission approved the full 5 percent fee with only Commissioner Steve Viau dissenting. Commissioner Dave Phalen was absent from the meeting.

“I’m not against the franchise fee but I’m against the 5 percent,” said Viau prior to the vote.

During the city manager’s report, Long discussed the possibilities available to the city for the recording of commission meetings. While there has been some discussion of the creation of a city-dedicated Public Education and Government Channel — commonly known as a PEG channel — the creation of the channel would be cost prohibitive for the city.

Instead, the city is actively working with Big Smile Technology to develop ways to record meetings and upload those meetings to the Internet.

“I think it’s going to be very low cost compared to having a TV station creating it from scratch, and I think it’s going to be a good way of getting it out to the community,” said Long.

For residents without reliable Internet access, DVD recordings of meetings would also be made available to residents at the Gladstone Public Library.