At the Monday, September 24 Rushford Council meeting, the council unanimously agreed upon a new franchise agreement with AcenTek, including the implementation of related fees. Doing so will require amendments to the city’s ordinance granting the franchise to Ace Telephone Association/AcenTek for the operation and maintenance of the cable televising system. A public hearing will be required to modify the ordinance.
The previous agreement, stretching back 15 years, did not include a franchise fee. Additionally, no public, educational, and governmental fee was charged as a programming access fee. “Without a fee like that, with programming like that, we’d keep having to go out and use funds,” noted City Administrator Tony Chladek, who added a 5% fee is common for municipalities. “There should be a fee for use of the public’s right-of-way.”
Options laid out in council documents included a 5% franchise fee and a $.95 per month, per user, PEG fee, graduating levels of fees over the 10-year proposed contract period, or charging no fees.
Councilor Terri Benson indicated a graduating fee schedule would address issues. “If we’re going to charge for this, there has to be something consistent. I would hope that this would make it a more viable tool,” she said. “We don’t want to put a big fee on.” She motioned to set the fee schedule at a 2.5% franchise fee and a $.50 per month, per user, PEG fee for the first five years of the contract, stepping up to 5% and a $.95 PEG fee for the remaining five years.
Councilor Jim O’Donnell addressed the need to personnel to utilize the equipment and service. The city is working with Rushford-Peterson Technical Director Corey Mattson and Rushford Peterson Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Jen Hengel, and Chamber of Commerce Assistant Shannon Meier. “It’s been a night and day difference over the last two years, but with a lack of consistency, without a revenue source to provide updates, it may not change more than it already has,” responded Chladek.
Benson added that the implementation of fees needs to be tied to a noticeable benefit. “What it can do has to be stressed,” she said. “It’s a tool our community should be taking advantage of more.”
Ideas for the channel include increased promotional marketing for city, school, and organization events, coverage of concerts, athletic events, and both school board and council meetings. “We’ve got the creative juices going already, but without a revenue source, it won’t go anywhere,” noted Chladek.
The agreement would be effective July 1, however the fee would begin at a later date. Councilor Sally Ryman suggested the city stagger fee implementation opposite the end of AcenTek’s marketing credits for recently upgraded service.
The fees will be collected on 440 City of Rushford customer accounts by AcenTek on a monthly basis. The PEG fee, which is based on gross revenue, will then be remitted to the city on a quarterly basis. The revenue will aid in maintenance of equipment and enhancement of programming.
Also approved at the meeting was the proposed tax levy for 2019. The levy was set at $913,000 last year and city staff is proposing a 2.52% increase, or $936,000. This equates to a 5.43% reduction in debt service and a 2.91% increase in operating expenses for a net increase of 2.52%.
The increase represents a $25,821 increase to the general fund to aid with tree removal and replanting expenses, as well as wage and benefit increases, a $6,000 bump to the Library Fund, $5,000 to the Economic Development Authority Fund, and $10,000 to Capital Projects. The Debt Service Fund is coming down $23,821 due to reconfigured bond debts, while Airport and Levee funds are holding steady.
City Clerk Kathy Zacher noted this amount is preliminary and a final amount won’t be certified to the county until until December. Should a 2.52% increase be approved at that time, it doesn’t directly correlate to an increase of the same rate on property owners’ tax assessments. “We want to have enough cushion. We can’t go higher, but can reduce the number prior to the December meeting. There are legitimate needs and purposes for the increase generated by the 2.52%.”
The council also approved a number of other agreements, including a renewal of the grant contract for the Valley Crest Riders Snowmobile Grant-In-Aid Program, for which the city serves as a fiscal agent, and a step increase for Roger Knutson, Public Works Director. Knutson’s increase was reviewed in 2017 by the Personnel Committee and is effective retroactive to September 1. This brings his grade position in line with market rates for his position and outlined duties.
Both Administrator Chladek and Mayor Chris Hallum noted they’d discussed recent complaints from Rushford Manor Apartments with Police Chief Adam Eide. Chladek noted he is satisfied with the law enforcement being provided and that Life Style, Inc. property management out of Owatonna will have to address issues from the business standpoint. “We’re still looking at other options or alternatives,” added Chladek.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Tuesday, October 9, due to the Columbus Day holiday. Please note the change from the regular Monday meeting. The public is encouraged to attend.