For town governments in Carroll these days, making a decision on thefuture of cable television has become almost as daunting as flippingthrough channels during the height of the new fall season.
Three proposals -- one dating back to more than two years ago -- are in front of the seven Carroll municipalities served by Prestige Cable TV ofMaryland Inc.
And while none of the proposals would radically change the way Carroll's nearly 19,000 cable subscribers watch the tube, they all havethe potential to alter the amount of money the towns collect from the cable company.
Officials from every town except Manchester -- whose 900 cable subscribers are served by Frederick Cablevision Inc. --are expected to tune in to the proposals at an Oct. 17 meeting of the county's Maryland Municipal League chapter.
Floating around townmeetings since March 1990 is a Prestige request to borrow five of the county's 10 unused community-access channels to increase the numberavailable for programming.
That request, met over the last year with little enthusiasm, was changed in June to a proposal that would increase the amount of money going to the towns and county by nearly 67 percent in exchange for the channels and a 10-year extension of itsnon-exclusive franchise.
A year ago, in an unrelated move, Carroll Community Television -- the folks who have produced local programming on Channel 55 since 1989 -- made a request to take a percentage ofthe yearly increase in franchise fee revenue Prestige pays the towns.
If implemented, the plan would boost CCTV's endowment enough by the turn of the century that interest on that investment would cover the channel's costs.
So far, no town has taken a vote on either proposal. Most of the towns turned down Prestige's original request forthe community-access channels.
"We want to make community television self-sustaining," said Paul LeValley, CCTV director.
The channel operates this year on a budget of $114,000. About $60,000 comes from the yearly fee Prestige pays to maintain CCTV, and the rest comes from interest on the nearly $500,000 endowment provided by Prestige from an out-of-court settlement in a contract dispute between the county and cable company.
Should the towns accept the plan, the $22,000 a month in franchise fees would remain constant. Channel 55 would receive 1 percent above the inflation rate of any amount over the $22,000.
Last month, Channel 55 began constructing a new studio at itsEast Main Street headquarters.
The $40,000 project -- to be completed by November -- will allow the more than 200 producers who use the facility to shoot in a studio. More than 500 shows since mid-1989 have been shot on location.
While separate from the Prestige proposal, Channel 55 would benefit if it were accepted.
Under the Prestige proposal, the towns and the county would receive 5 percent of the company's gross revenues, a 67 percent boost from the current 3 percent level. The company's revenues are about $8.8 million a year.
Tothe towns and county, that would mean an increase of nearly $14,000.To CCTV, it would mean $1,000 more.
Over the years, as Prestige'srates increase -- they have increased yearly -- the cut to Channel 55 would increase.
Calculations show that should the towns agree toChannel 55's proposal, CCTV's endowment in the year 2005 would total$4.2 million, generating an annual income of $313,000.