HJ-ED-DHJ

Nov. 20, 2006

HL cable hangs in balance

By Lynda Jensen
Editor

Voices were raised and tempers restrained as the Howard Lake City Council conducted a workshop session about its cable channel department Nov. 6.

The meeting, which was accidentally broadcast live on the cable station, PACT Channel 10, featured council members speaking frankly about the cable department and comments from a fair-sized audience, both for and against.

Many council members, including outgoing Mayor Terry Ostgulen, are looking toward cutting the cable department budget.

Proponents are afraid that cuts will disembowel the department.

For example certain cuts – such as converting Neil Sideen’s department head position from full time to part time – will prevent cable from obtaining underwriters that will allow for much revenue to be collected. Since the council is looking for the cable department to generate more revenue, this would defeat that purpose.

It would also cut back on the number of live broadcasts and probably end up with fewer offerings on cable, such as less coverage of sports and other popular items.

The group reviewed five different options (see boxed area) ranging from keeping the department as it is, to cutting it altogether.

“My feeling is that if we start to go down the list, and choose option 3 (which seemed to be favored by the group), you’re going to have it right where you want it – we’ll be at option 5 (elimination) in a year,” Council Member Shelly Reddemann said.

“Why do you say that?” Mayor Terry Ostgulen said.

“You’re going to tie their hands,” Reddemann said. “They’re not going to have the service.” He didn’t think sponsors would pay for simple, non-animated service and that cable would be able to generate revenue, he said.

“Then it’s poorly run,” Ostgulen said.

“This council has basically destroyed the program,” commented resident and former mayor Gerry Smith.

At the end of the meeting, Ostgulen said the city wouldn’t cut the program, but changes appear certain.

What it means to seniors

“Our seniors live and die for their cable,” commented resident Pat Schoepoerster. Others chimed in.

“My father was not able to attend the Good Neighbor Days parade,” another citizen said. “He wasn’t going to go downtown with his oxygen tank. But, by gosh, there were a lot of people in his apartment building, watching TV,” she said.

Cable gives the seniors a chance to watch the Lakers play as well, she said. “By gosh, they cheer on those Lakers, even if it was three weeks ago,” she added.

She went on to say that the camera at St. Mary’s is broken and has been playing the same service for three weeks. “My parents know that Mass by heart,” she said.

Council Member Jan Gilmer noted that he is interested and concerned about seniors.

When the Memorial service was accidentally not replayed, this generated feedback from seniors, Hinnenkamp said.

Margaret Marketon, who is a member of the cable commission although not a resident, noted that she thought the commission was supposed to manage program content and not necessarily be preoccupied with fundraising.

This could change, she said.

Both Reddemann and Council Member Tom Kutz pressed the others to ask for public input about the issue.

Ostgulen said that this would be pointless because the council understands how popular cable is with seniors. The problem is how much cost is too much, and whether others who don’t buy cable access should be forced to pay for the service for others.

Gerry Smith challenged this, saying that residents pay all the time for such things as parks, streets and utilities, that aren’t used by all.

Ostgulen disagreed with the utility idea, saying it is a fee-based service.

“I’m paying for south side improvements right now, and I live across the lake,” Smith said. The city didn’t and doesn’t assess individual property owners for street or utility improvements.

Administrator Kelly Hinnencamp noted that the live broadcasts seem to cut down on calls to city hall and provide a valuable service. “I don’t think we’re really looking at the overall benefit to city in communication,” she said.

She also noted that any decision made this year could be overturned next year.

How much is too much?

The council expressed frustration with what it perceived as a lack of cooperation from the cable department, since previous requests for a specific breakdown of how much costs what for the department have not been forthcoming.

This sentiment was echoed by Ostgulen and Kutz.

Council Member Jan Gilmer pointed out that Sideen makes $42,000 per year including benefits (his actual wage is $29,000 plus the remainder in benefits as a full-time employee). It was speculated how much work could be expected from someone in that position.

“I gave him (Sideen) ideas on how to sell,” Gilmer said.

“Maybe you should go out and sell,” Smith told Gilmer.

Council Member Al Munson pointed out that the city’s web site is supposed to be managed by Sideen. “Isn’t that in his job description?” he asked. Hinnenkamp confirmed it is.

It was noted that up until two months ago, the web site content had been the same for years.

Al Munson said he thought it would be simple to obtain sponsors to underwrite cable.

Franchise fees contribute to a base amount for cable. It was discussed how many cable subscribers there are, with Gilmer saying that 56 percent of homes don’t get cable.

“How did you get that number?” Hinnenkamp questioned, saying that she has been unable to figure a number based on what the cable franchise has given her. She wondered if the figure was accurate.

Smith noted that even if that number is true, it would be a higher percentage than parks being used.

Kutz said that the council needs to ask the question “As a taxpayer, are you willing for the council to spend this amount of money on cable?” with a figure attached to each question.

Resident Vern Kleve called cable a “failed experiment,” and said it had come to a point where the council should “get rid of it once and for all.” However, later in the meeting, Kleve conceded “I don’t want to see cable gone.”

Feedback on Channel 10 Cable is sought

The Howard Lake City Council is looking for feedback to determine what kind of cuts might be made to the cable department. There will be a workshop Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Howard Lake City Hall.

Citizens are encouraged to attend and provide input. Citizens who are unable to attend may send letters to: City of Howard Lake, PO Box 736, Howard Lake, MN 55349. All letters received at city hall by 4 p.m. on Nov. 21 will be read at the city council workshop.

Summary of options for Howard Lake cable

The following are five options that the Howard Lake council is looking at for its cable department. Basic differences for each are that a major equipment purchase for $15,000 is deleted from option one and two, that option three features a cutback in the department head position from full to part time, and that option five is complete elimination.

OPTION 1

• Department would continue to operate the same as in previous years and the budget proposed by department head includes proposed equipment purchases in the amount of $15,000.

• Full-time department head allows the city to provide more programming options.

• Provides $15,000 for new equipment to make programming more efficient.

• General Fund Cost is estimated at $48,887.

OPTION 2

• Department would continue to operate the same as in previous years and the budget excludes proposed equipment purchases from the department head’s proposal.

• Full time department head allows the city to provide more programming options.

• Provides no funding for equipment upgrades.

• General fund cost is estimated at $33,887.

OPTION 3

• Status of the department head changes from full-time hourly to part-time salary.

• General Fund cost would cover the wages and supplies for the department and the estimated revenues, which equals the estimated franchise fees, would go towards new equipment purchases (approximately $9,000 annually).

• Part-time department head still allows for some programming options and expertise.

• Limits revenues due to reduction in staff.

• Funds would become available through franchise fees to fund equipment upgrades.

• General Fund cost is $20,392.

OPTION 4

• Eliminates the department head position and includes $50 per council meeting in part-time wages.

• Daily programming would need to be done by other city staff or volunteers.

• Programming would be limited to council meetings, bulletin information, and tapes brought in by outside organizations (school, churches, volunteers, ect.)

• Limited guidance on the technical aspect of the department due elimination of department head position.

• Provides $7,000 equipment purchase to make programming more efficient.

• No general fund cost. Department would be funded solely on franchise fees.

OPTION 5

• Eliminates department completely.

• City would lose an important communication tool with residents.

• No general fund cost - Franchise fees would subsidize the general fund without a cable expense.


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