Westminster city council to vote on 2001 budget

Public-access cable issue is unresolved

May 22, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Westminster Common Council is expected tonight to adopt a $17 million budget for fiscal 2001 that calls for no increase in property taxes but does raise water and sewer rates.

Sewer rates would increase by 3 percent and water rates by 5 percent. Both utilities must be self-supporting, city officials said at a work session last month.

The council balanced the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, in April by trimming and delaying some items to eliminate a $952,000 imbalance between budget requests and projected revenue.

The only issue left to resolve is the amount of money the city will designate for public-access cable channels, said Councilman Gregory Pecoraro, chairman of the finance committee.

Prestige Cable TV of Carroll County recently won renewal of its franchise and agreed to increase the amount it pays in franchise fees to the county and the towns from 3 percent to 5 percent. For Westminster, those additional 2 percentage points mean $45,000 in the general fund, Pecoraro said.

The increase was intended for a new network of public channels, known collectively as PEG, for Public, Educational and Governmental access, said MarionE. Ware, director of Carroll Community Television, public-access Channel 19. The PEG program would give a separate channel to each town and to county government, schools, Carroll Community College and other public agencies, and is to be administered by a new nonprofit entity."This 2 percent increase in the franchise fee was negotiated with the intent of it covering the operating costs for PEG," Ware said.

Pecoraro disagreed, saying a municipal budget is independent of the franchise agreement.

However, he said, "We still feel there's a real value in creating the PEG center, and we're working on making sure that Westminster participates - as it should."

Ware said New Windsor, Union Bridge and Mount Airy already agreed to designate their increase for the PEG center, while Taneytown, Hampstead and Sykesville were awaiting the decisions by the two biggest entities, Westminster and Carroll County..

In discussions last week, the county commissioners unanimously agreed to give the 2 percentage point increase to the PEG program for at least two years.

After a two-year period with full funding, the county would require the nonprofit group to submit a budget for future funding.

The franchise renewal agreement was reached after several extensions and finally approved last month by the county and towns.

In addition to the PEG program, the agreement includes improvements for the 10-year-old Channel 19, which operates out of a basement at the Carroll Community College annex on a $60,000 budget from Prestige. The cable company agreed to one-time payments totaling $800,000 to renovate the studios and upgrade equipment, plus an increase to $75,000 a year for operating expenses.

The county and municipal governments also voted to approve the pending transfer of the franchise to Adelphia Communications Corp., of Coudersport, Pa., which is acquiring Prestige. Manchester, the county's eighth incorporated town, was not required to vote because it hadsigned with a different cable provider.

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