While there’s only one cable provider in New Paltz, there are two franchises, one for the town and the other covering that smaller area controlled by the village government. In one of the enduring shows of unity, those two New Paltz agreements are negotiated through one public access committee to ensure that they are identical. At their June 22 board meeting, village trustees were briefed on that process by committee chair Anton Stewart.
Local franchise authorities get to set the franchise fee, although it’s capped at five percent of “gross revenues derived from the operation of the cable system for the provision of cable services,” according to the Public Service Commission.
Definitions of terms can narrow what counts as revenue. Without those definitions, the scope can be quite broad. For example, if that franchise fee is passed on to customers — which is legal — then the local franchise authority is even entitled to five percent of that number.
In New Paltz, the fees for internet connection has been one source of revenue that’s been excluded. The number of people who purchase an internet connection but no cable television programming has risen in recent years. Since there are no restrictions on how this franchise fee may be used, increasing it is a topic of keen interest to local officials.
“I’ve reason to believe they’ve been collecting fees for cable internet all along, and just not paying them,” Stewart said during the briefing.
In addition to collecting more money, New Paltz hopes to use these negotiations to improve customer service. The proposed agreements include assurances that residents would have “a single point of contact” to resolve issues.
The idea is to avoid long waits on hold, and to ensure that whoever handles the issue is trained on local issues, including the senior- citizen discount. That discount — a free month of a service after the bill is paid on time for twelve consecutive months — has been handled poorly enough that mayor Tim Rogers filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission. Seniors have reported to the mayor that they have either given up trying to obtain this discount, or that they have faced long hold times and employees who express ignorance over this special local deal.
There’s also language in the new draft laying out how senior citizens must register for the discount, and ensuring that it will be applied automatically thereafter under the assumption senior citizens are unlikely to fail the age test once they pass it the first time.
Another update involves local programming. Officials want the necessary hardware to make it possible to use the local access channel by residents and for emergency use. The terms call for including local programming in the digital cable guide, which is necessary in order for a digital video recorder to be programmed to capture it.
In addition, the right to change the number of the public access channel would require 90 days’ notice and a public hearing. Together with inclusion in the cable guide, Stewart believes such an agreenent would ensure that New Paltz residents can find government meetings and locally-produced entertainment. For live broadcasts, the deal would require that the signal not degrade, and that the hardware would be upgraded as needed.
While the amount of revenue to be collected could be rising, this new agreement retains the rate of just 3.5 percent, much less than the five percent allowed by law. Reached after the meeting, Stewart said that there had been no discussion of this issue because increases would get passed on to the individual subscribers.
Electricity rates steady
When Columbia Utilities filed its intention to break an agreement to provide electricity to New Paltz customers at a flat rate considerably lower than what anyone buying on the spot market is getting, officials in New Paltz and the other communities that signed onto that deal filed a lawsuit.
In what mayor Tim Rogers is calling a victory, that plan to renege is on hold while attorneys for the corporation prepare papers. The agreement was that was signed, under community choice aggregation laws that made it possible to negotiate rates for entire communities — or at least those residents who don’t choose to opt out — provides those residents power from renewable New York sources for 6.574 cents per kilowatt hour. The average rate paid by Central Hudson customers has been 9.106 cents per kilowatt hour over the last year.
The mechanical parking meters used on many village streets are getting harder to maintain, and employees have laid their hands on a trove of 80 refurbished battery-powered meters with which to replace the irreparable ones. Also being purchased are two more kiosks which allow users to pay from a central location. Anyone parking a car in a metered village spot will also be able to use a smartphone app to pay.
Kiosks don’t work well for street parking, because they need to be located within a convenient walking distance from the spot in question. Trustee Stana Weisburd, evidently assuming that any driver desiring to park a car is more likely to have a smartphone than coins in their pocket, would prefer parking fees be collected using an app, as is the case for the seven new paid spots near Zero Place. Additional options will be available elsewhere. Trustees did not discuss whether fees will be charged to the user of a credit card, or whether it’s legal not to provide a means to pay using legal tender.