Public Access channels looking to make use of funds and expand Southborough programming

Above: Past Board of Selectmen meetings like this are one of the few original programs by the town’s public access channels. At last night’s meeting, Southborough Access Media pitched plans to recruit more exciting programming. (Photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

Do you have a hobby, expertise or interest you’d like to share? Do you have a point of view you’d like to pontificate? Or maybe you think you could be the next Oprah.

Whatever your interest, Southborough Access Media could provide the perfect opportunity.

Southborough has access to three public channels: Education, Public access, and Government channels. They recently incorporated and are seeking non-profit status. At last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, SAM’s board updated selectmen on their efforts and goals.

The main reason for their update to selectmen last night was to request access to their earmarked funds. The town has collected the cable access franchise fees over the years. As of March 31st, the town was holding approximately $736,000.

Current programming is slim, mostly syndicated, and highly repetitive. (The BOS meeting I taped on the government channel last night is one of the few “original programs” played.)

Last night, board members pitched their plan to recruit students and volunteers to help “make our local cable channels a Must See TV experience.”

According to committee representatives, they will offer the opportunity for volunteers to stream video from phones or mobile devices.

Students interested in streaming video of school sports or events could arrange that. But there are still opportunities to practice more professional production techniques. For instance, students could work together in a two or more person crew to film games with color commentary.

Some of their future goals include changing to high definition programming and moving out of their Fayville space. Selectman John Rooney pressed the committee to report back soon on their space requirements. 

He explained that the BOS will have a goal setting meeting in the near future. It is likely to include a discussion of the town’s infrastructure needs.

Right now they are lacking an Executive Director. They are just beginning the work to fill the spot. The vacancy is holding up the process on decisions like facility requirements.

Board member Alex Neilhaus expressed his urgency to move forward. He pointed out that Southborough residents have been paying the franchise fees in their cable bills and not getting what they deserve in return. “The $700K is a measure of what we haven’t done.”

Neilhaus is eager to hire the Executive Director and start putting the money to use. He hopes to make use of new director and an “activist board” to get a lot done.

Selectmen asked Southborough Treasurer, Brian Ballentine, to work with SAM. Selectmen hope to approve the release of funds at their next meeting.

If you are interested in getting involved with the committee or programing ideas, contact info@sborotv.org. For a look at the channel line up and schedule, go to sborotv.org.

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DLD
8 years ago

Can the $700K in accumulated franchise fees ONLY be used to fund local access television? Spending all that money to create a product for which there is currently little to no demand seems like a terrible waste when budgets for core services are being stretched elsewhere across town.

Frank Crowell
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Oh well – there goes my dream for transfer station fees being reduced or money returned in another way to my pocket.

Just Curious
8 years ago

Folks-

Let’s all be very clear about the $736,000 balance in the “earmarked” funds. This money did not fall out of the sky. It came in the form of a TAX added to every Southborough cable tv user’s bill. That’s right – look at your cable/FIOS bill and look for the local fee. When the town BOS negotiated with Charter and Verizon to allow them access to the town. the BOS required these companies to add a TAX to your monthly cable bill. And the balance of these collected TAXES co far is $736,000.

It is interesting to recall all the furor in past years when the town’s “rainy day fund”/stabilization fund reached this amount and the Advisory Committee was all over that issue to get the balance reduced and have those over-collected taxes returned to the town taxpayers, which had the effect of reducing the future year’s taxes.

I urge the Selectmen to have these funds returned to the cable users rather than “find a way” to use these TAXES. We have enough of this craziness by both political parties in Washington. Let’s hope the Selectmen will see the light on this issue.

mike
8 years ago

agreed with return the money to those who ‘pay taxes’

SB Resident
8 years ago

I also urge the Selectman to find a way to return these funds to those of us who paid them. (I know of a certain turf field that needs replacing!) But what I’d really love to see, assuming Just Curious’ statements are the truth, is the selectman fix the tax that they created that we clearly don’t need to be paying. Times change, the internet has also replaced the need for public access tv.

sboro87
8 years ago

non-profit status and $700+ of our tax dollars….does that mean our tax dollars slide into their non-profit account?

southsider
8 years ago

Give it back! Give it back!

Or at least consider eliminating it going forward until it’s necessary again.
Then we could see if our then-current BOS would be willing to institute a new tax on us.

Just Curious
8 years ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Beth-

I respectfully disagree, a little :)

Whether we call this a cable franchise fee, or a tax, the effect is the same. A government entity (the BOS), negotiated an agreement with Charter and Verizon FIOS that required those two companies to pay a fee to the town. Those two companies charge subscribers extra to recoup those fees/taxes.

So effectively we have the BOS directing these two companies to take $736,000 in funds from customers and pay it to the town. Since we do not a choice in the matter, ie neither Verizon nor Charter will provide you service unless you pay this additional fee/tax, it smells like a tax to me.

The remaining balance in that fund is $736,000. The part of this discussion that REALLY bother me is the somewhat cavalier attitude the BOS are displaying towards this money. It seems to be “Well, we have this $736,000, so why don;t we find a way to spend it?”

It would be interesting to see how much has been collected over time and how it is spent each year. (I believe a substantial portion of the cable funds are spent to maintain the Fayville Hall which is occupied by a grand total of TWO full time town employees and a part time cable employee. Now this makes no sense at all!!!)

Maybe this is just human nature. We view this $736,000 as “found” money so we don’t apply the same degree of scrutiny to that expenditure that we would give it if it were a budget item at town meeting. Can you imagine the uproar from TM if someone put up a warrant seeking $736,000 for a cable TV shows?

On the other hand, look at how little scrutiny we show to expenditures from the Community Preservation Act fund. This is another of those hidden fees/taxes which is a surcharge on your property taxes. How much did we spend on that small triangle of land near the T-station? Over $250,000!!!!! For “passive recreation” and “historical purposes?” What a colossal waste of $250,000 of OUR tax dollars!!!

So, BOS, please give the $736,000 back to the cable/FIOS subscribers.

PS – I wish Mr Hamilton were still on the Advisory Committee so he could bring some attention to these issues.

Southville
8 years ago
Reply to  Just Curious

I actually agree more with the linked article. Here’s an alternate example. What if a company wanted to come in and host a concert, using a town owned space? Let’s say the town allowed the usage, but charged the company hosting the concert a fee for use of the space, to cover general costs of maintaining the property. That’s not a “tax”, it’s simply the property owner charging a valid fee for use of the facilities.

If the company hosting the concert then turns around and adds a separate line item to your ticket price, saying “town fees”, that doesn’t suddenly make it a “tax”. They could easily add any other expense as a line item as well (for example, the cost to hire the band), would that then be a “tax”?

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