Town Funding of School District Cable Raises Council’s Concern

The Derry Town Council has approved the working budget for Derry Community Television, while expressing the need for a workshop to discuss the relationship between the town’s cable department and the school district.

Chris Martin and Debbie Roy, cable coordinator and assistant coordinator respectively, appeared before the Council at the April 22 budget meeting to discuss their proposed budget of $313,055.

Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau reminded the Council that Cable is self-funded from franchise fees and does not affect the tax rate.

Roy explained the structure of the department, which includes two channels: Channel 17, with “gavel to gavel” coverage of public meetings; and Channel 23, where any resident with a good idea can put on a show. “We have religion, politics, how-to, a little bit of everything,” she said. Roy noted that public access television keeps the community informed and is a mechanism for free speech.

The working budget for Cable includes no new personnel and a “minor” increase in the payroll, Martin said. He is asking for a new telephone system, a line increase of $5,470, and a new cable remote truck to be funded from the Capital Improvement Plan. The current truck, which they use for shooting off-campus events such as Derryfest, was taken off the road in March because it could not pass inspection, he said.

“It was a converted ambulance,” Martin said. “We got five years out of it.” The new truck is estimated to cost $33,000.

But it was the funds funneled to School Administrative Unit (SAU) 10 that drew the most debate.

The line for “transfer to other governments” is $51,075 and consists of money transferred to the Derry Cooperative School District to pay part of the salary of their cable coordinator, David Minkle. Council Chairman Mark Osborne said this practice had always bothered him.

“We have customers in Derry that pay for cable service,” Osborne said. “In any other business, the customers would expect you to invest in yourselves, to provide even better service.”

But if they approve the transfer, Osborne said, “this Council swoops down, raids your revenue and gives it to the school.” Osborne, a lawyer, observed that if his clients did the same thing, they would go to jail.

Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs clarified that the funds only go to the school cable department, and that channel can be accessed by residents as well as Channels 17 and 23.

“Mr. Minkle is a full-time school employee, and we subsidize him when he does the cable end of it,” Martin explained.

“How is this not double taxation?” Osborne countered. “I pay my cable bill, I also pay my property tax. If you were able to hold on to the $51,000, would you find something to do with it?”

Martin said, “Dave is doing the same function we are.”

But Osborne wondered, “Why doesn’t the school district pay for its own people?”

The breakdown of the $51,075 is as follows: Minkle, $25,325; Ray Larose, information technology director, $15,620; and equipment, $10,130.

Councilor Tom Cardon asked what the result would be if the $51,076 were cut.

“It would be up to the school to decide if they wanted to keep their educational channel,” Martin responded.

If the school decided to keep the channel, it would result in another $51,000 on the school budget, Cardon said.

Councilor David Fischer said, “I feel strongly that any partnership with the schools needs to continue. Communication is important. If we zero out this line, we’re making a statement.”

A vote was taken, with Cardon, Albert Dimmock and Osborne in favor of cutting the $51,076 and Fischer, Michael Fairbanks, Phyllis Katsakiores and Joshua Bourdon against it. The motion failed.

Fairbanks asked for a future workshop on the issue, noting it had come up before.

The final budget was approved 6-1, with Osborne the dissenting vote.