City / County Digest

CITY / COUNTY DIGEST

November 02, 2006

Audit faults cable TV fees verification

The Mayor's Office of Cable and Communications did not obtain the necessary financial records from Baltimore's cable companies to ensure that the city was receiving the money it was entitled to under its franchise agreements, according to a report by the city auditor issued yesterday.

The report covered July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2005. During that time, the city got $4.5 million in franchise fees based on 5 percent of gross revenues, according to the audit. The fees came from Comcast of Baltimore City and from Flight Systems Inc., which provided cable service around the Inner Harbor from 1999 to March 2005, when it was bought by Comcast.

City auditors said in the report that "the fees collected were neither verified nor reconciled to the franchisee's financial records to determine whether the city received the proper remittance."

In a written response to the audit dated Oct. 30 and presented yesterday to the Board of Estimates, the cable office said that supporting documentation required under a new franchise agreement that went into effect in March 2005 "has not always been provided in a complete or timely manner by Comcast."

The response noted "that there is no finding that indicates that the city has failed to receive all the franchise fees to which it is entitled."

It added that it has scheduled a Nov. 15 meeting with Comcast officials to make sure it has all required documentation from the company since March 2005.

Eric Siegel

Baltimore: Education

New school getting $450,000 Gates grant

A new Catholic high school expected to open in Baltimore next fall is getting $450,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the foundation announced yesterday. The Cristo Rey Jesuit High School has raised more than $6 million in private donations to start the school in the former Mildred Monroe Elementary School, shuttered several years ago. The building on Guilford Avenue has been largely vacant since then. Renovations are expected to begin in the next two to three months, said the Rev. John Swope, S.J., president of the Cristo Rey school in Baltimore. The school will be part of a network of 18 Cristo Rey schools across the country.

Liz Bowie

Archdiocese

Apology sought for abuse policies

Several members of a clergy abuse survivor group protested yesterday in front of the Catholic archdiocese headquarters, calling for the Archdiocese of Baltimore to apologize for policies that they charge covered up abuse.

Cardinal William H. Keeler should use the reopening of the Basilica of the Assumption on Saturday as "a chance for real renewal," said Bob Russell of the Greater Baltimore Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. The cardinal has apologized for the abuse but not the policies that concealed it, Russell said.

But archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said the protesters are a small group motivated by a desire to sue the church for abuse that occurred decades ago. Keeler meets personally with victims, and the archdiocese pays for their counseling, Caine said.

"We think that truly promotes healing," he said.

Liz F. Kay

Anne Arundel: Fort Meade

Army chooses project developer

The Army has picked a major developer to build two golf courses and a huge retail-office project at Fort Meade, part of a 540-acre redevelopment to accommodate an impending job boom there. The selection of Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co., announced yesterday by the Army Corps of Engineers, comes as the military prepares for the relocation of thousands of jobs to the Army post in the next five years as part of the base realignment and closure process. Under a proposed lease with the Army, the international real estate developer would oversee the building of two golf courses on 367 acres in the southeast corner of Fort Meade. The retail-office project would be built on 173 acres along Route 175, in part to accommodate a surge of private contractors.

Phillip McGowan

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