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Board grapples with cable fees for police



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October 09, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- The township board has postponed a decision on using excess cable franchise fees to support police services.

The board voted 4-1 at their Oct. 7 meeting to delay a motion that would transfer nearly $72,000 in cable franchise fees into the police fund. Supervisor Kathy Thurman voted no. Trustees Ron Lapp and Jayson Rumball were absent.

"People won't understand how much police cost if we keep using this money," said Trustee Dana DePalma.

The township and Village of Ortonville entered a 10-year uniform agreement with Charter, the sole cable provider in this area, in 2009. The company charges subscribers a fee that is 3 to 5 percent of their total cable bill and then reimburses the municipalities that allow them to operate cable equipment.

In the past year (July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013) the township received $144,125.40 in Charter franchise fees and $15,826.70 in other franchise fees for total revenue of $159,952.10. A little more than half of that is used to support the local cable access station, OTV, providing a salary for the cable coordinator and wages for Brandon High School students who assist in cable operations, as well as funds for equipment and repairs.

Since 2010, the township has allocated the surplus cable franchise fees to be used for police services. The fee is stipulated by Charter and the township has no control over the amount collected. When previously deciding to direct the excess to police services, Thurman cited a township fiscal priorities survey that showed 73 percent of respondents favored using franchise and cell tower fees to increase revenue for basic services.

The township has cut deputies in recent years due to a lack of funding and has used the franchise fees to support the police fund. A police millage will expire at the end of this year and the board is currently considering ballot language that will either ask for a police millage renewal next year or possibly an increase.

"We're barebones as it is," said Oakland County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Pete Burkett. "We have frustrated citizens that want to know why their property crimes aren't being solved. We're looking at new windows in our substation, a new air conditioning system, painting the building. We need to look at the big picture— we have to stop cutting law enforcement and we have to start building up."

DePalma suggested the township should ask the village to contribute their excess cable franchise fees to the police fund as well. The village received $19,269.39 in cable franchise fees this year.

Thurman said she will present that proposal to the village council during their Oct. 28 meeting.

"I voted no on the postponement (of approving the transfer of franchise fees to the police fund) because I think we should be deciding what we are doing with our cable franchise fees regardless of what the village decides to do with theirs," said Thurman. "I don't think it's a bad idea to suggest it, but I think we should show we are willing to use our funds for that purpose."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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